Chapter 8: Saloon in the Wild Wild West

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We don’t have any idea where we’re going.

I just lead Delilah all around town, Melissa following close behind. Every now and then, we pass a man on horseback, like us, or meandering along the dusty road.

“Howdy,” I’d say, tipping my hat. I study each face as they greet me back, concentrating on Richard. But if any of these men are the real Richard, he doesn’t reveal his true self.

The only good thing that comes out of our little escapade is that I suddenly get good at riding horses. I mean, really good. Cowboy good. Which makes sense, since Wes’s memories keep trying to flood mine until I can barely remember what Miss Charity – I mean, Melissa and I are searching for.

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“I’m getting awfully hungry,” Melissa says as the sun begins to sink and the long shadows melt away. She pats at her hair, which has slipped from its neat bun and sticks to her face. “Maybe we should stop and rest for a while.”

“Good idea,” I say. We tie up our horses at the nearest hitching post and head into a saloon.

Big mistake.

The saloon itself is normal, I guess. Lots of wood, rough-looking guys guzzling thick mugs of ale, darts (because what better combination than a bunch of drunk men and sharp, pointy things to throw?). The only thing missing is a piano guy thumping out ragtime tunes on a splintery piano.

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There’s one woman in the saloon who isn’t dressed like a floozy, so Missy tries to make polite conversation. But the woman turns out to be a bar maid with a vocabulary so colorful, it would make a construction worker blush. Missy edges away and waits by herself in a corner while I go around the room, leaning into card games and making small talk, hoping there’d be a Disney-like puff of smoke, then one of these guys might magically transform into Richard. But the only puffs of smoke come from the pipes and cigars clenched between their teeth.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a man burst through the saloon doors, carrying a shotgun. For a second, my heart thuds, as I have visions of him opening fire in some crazed wild west shootout. But the guy just parks his shotgun against the wall and studies the scene with a calm, bored expression. His eyes land on Missy, still in her corner, and his face brightens. As he swaggers toward her, I excuse myself from the non-Richard crowd and hurry across the room.

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Jealous? Me? Well, maybe a little. But come on – Missy is trapped in the body of a hot twenty-something single woman and is being flirted with by Mr. Cool Cowboy, while I’m good ol’ Wes Turner, homestead resident, husband, and father-to-be.

I don’t stand a chance.

“Howdy. Wes Turner.” I hold out my hand to the stranger, who looks at it like I’d just offered him a wet sock.

“Jesse Barnes,” he says. His upper lip lifts into a half sneer. “But everyone knows that.”

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And suddenly, I do remember. Jesse Barnes is a recent transplant from back east. Rich as sin and more powerful than the town sheriff. Please don’t be Richard. Please, don’t be Richard, I think. But I’m out of luck. Because just then, Jesse’s face morphs into that of a young Richard, complete with thick glasses.

“It’s you!” I exclaim.

“It’s you!” he says, paling. I touch my stubbled chin, wondering if I turned into me when he turned into Richard.

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“Oh, I knew it was you!” says Missy, laughing. I shake off a fresh surge of jealousy.

“I am so glad to see the two of you,” says Richard. “Man, this place…no computers, no television, nothing. What’s the good in being rich if all you can do is gamble or buy more horses?”

“One can never have enough horses,” I say.

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“But how on earth do we get out of here?” asks Missy, looking around the saloon. “How do we, you know, get back home?”

Richard shrugs. “We got here in a telephone booth. So maybe we have to find a telephone booth to get back home.”

“Um, telephones weren’t invented yet?” I point out.

Richard smirks. “You got a better idea, Alexei?” He offers Missy his elbow, then escorts her out of the saloon.

I pick up his shotgun and follow them into the night. “My name is not Alexei,” I grumble to Richard’s back. “It’s Al.”

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