It was a stinking hot day in the middle of a stinking hot summer that seemed like it would never end.
The air inside Telly’s Tavern was every bit as scorching as the dusty main street of Drybrook, and it was staler than a mug of beer left to simmer for a week, to boot
Seven oily men sat at the bar with their shirt sleeves rolled up to their elbows, with another ten scattered among the tables.
Every one of those fellows heard the boot steps clopping their direction from the edge of town, but none so much as twitched until the blazing sunlight burning through Telly’s floor gave way to a man-shaped shadow.
A couple of the men at tables flicked their eyes in the stranger’s direction. The rest continued on with their private sweltering.
“What’re you drinkin’, stranger?” Telly called from behind the bar.
The interloper stepped into the shadows of the saloon and removed his hat.
“Not drinkin’,” the young man said. “I’m lookin’ for the Purple Dragon.”
Telly scoffed. “Purple Dragon? What the hell is that?”
The stranger squinted. “Not ‘what.’ Who. Maybe you know him as Bart Larson?”
Telly frowned. “This here is the only Bart I know.” He pointed to a man at the bar. “But his name is Lawson, not Larson.”
“Never were too clever, were you, Daddy?” the newcomer said.
Lawson turned to face the young man. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
“Nope, you’re the louse that deserted me and Mama.”
“You can’t prove anything,” Bart said.
The outlander reached forward and grabbed Bart by the wrist, then held up both of their forearms to the light. Each man’s arm showed an identical purple birthmark, shaped like the head of a fire-breathing dragon.
“You sure about that, Daddy?”