All characters or Generics within a book are graded A to D, one through ten. A-grades are the Gatsbys and Jane Eyres, D-grades the grunts who make up street scenes and crowded rooms. The barkeeper had lines, so he was probably a C-2. Smart enough to get answers from but not smart enough to have much character latitude.
"He might be using the alias Norman Johnson," I went on, showing him a photo. "Tall, body of a man, head of a bull, likes to eat people?"
"Can't help you," he said, shaking his head slowly as he peered at the photo.
"How about any outbreaks of slapstick?" asked Bradshaw. "Boxing glove popping out of a box, sixteen-ton weights dropping on people, that sort of thing?"
"Ain't seen no weights droppin' on nobody," laughed the barkeeper, "but I hear tell the sheriff got hit in the face with a frying pan last Toosday."
Bradshaw and I exchanged glances.
"Where do we find the sheriff?" I asked.
We followed the barkeeper's directions and walked along the wooden decking past a barbershop and two grizzled prospectors who were talking animatedly in authentic frontier gibberish. I stopped Bradshaw when we got to an alleyway. There was a gunfight in progress. Or at least, there would have been a gunfight had not some dispute arisen over the times allocated for their respective showdowns. Both sets of gunmentwo dressed in light-colored clothes, two in darkwith low-slung gun belts decorated with rows of shiny cartridgeswere arguing over their gunfight time slots as two identical ladyfolk looked on anxiously. The town's mayor intervened and told them that if there were any more arguments, they would both lose their slot times and would have to come back tomorrow, so they reluctantly agreed to toss a coin. The winners of the toss scampered into the main street as everyone dutifully ran for cover. They squared up to one another, hands hovering over their Colt .45s at twenty paces. There was a flurry of action, two loud detonations, and then the gunman in black hit the dirt while the victor looked on grimly, his opponent's shot having dramatically only removed his hat. His lady rushed up to hug him as he reholstered his revolver with a flourish.
"What a load of tripe," muttered Bradshaw. "The real West wasn't like this!"
Death at Double-X Ranch was set in 1875 and written in 1908. Close enough to be historically accurate, you would have thought, but no. Most westerns tended to show a glamorized version of the Old West that hadn't really existed. In the real West, a gunfight was a rarity, hitting someone with a short-barreled Colt .45 at anything other than point-blank range a virtual impossibility. The 1870s gunpowder generated a huge amount of smoke; two shots in a crowded bar and you would be coughingand almost blind.
"That's not the point," I replied as the dead gunslinger was dragged away. "Legend is always far more readable, and don't forget we're in pulp at presentpoor prose always outnumbers good prose, and it would be too much to hope that our bullish friend would be hiding out in Zane Grey or Owen Wister."
We continued on past the Majestic Hotel as a stagecoach rumbled by in a cloud of dust, the driver cracking his long whip above the horses' heads.
"Over there," said Bradshaw, pointing at a building opposite that differentiated itself from the rest of the clapboard town by being made of brick. It had SHERIFF painted above the door, and we walked quickly across the road, our nonwestern garb somewhat out of place amongst the long dresses, bonnets and breeches, jackets, dusters, vests, gun belts and bootlace ties. Only permanently billeted Jurisfiction officers troubled to dress up, and many of the agents actively policing the westerns are characters from the books they patrolso they don't need to dress up anyway.
Excerpted from Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde. Copyright Jasper Fforde 2004. All rights reserved
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