by Peter Straub
Here is the code of the west, as it is known to all the old-time cowpokes, gunslingers, Fancy Dans, riverboat captains and the riverboat gamblers who inhabit their lounges, also sodbusters, floozies, and itinerant preachers, also ranch hands, bunkhouse carpenters, barroom piano players, bartenders, river trash, and the like: to drink your last, last drink in Bird Head, Nebraska. A last drink in Bird Head was pretty much the law back then, according to Bird Head—Bird Head McGraw, top dog amongst the poets of the chuck wagon and the open range – and so it remains to this day. Wagon wheels pop the skulls of the bird heads that pave the road into Bird Head—pop them like eggshells so they turn to powder and feathers the size of a comma. Comma-sized feathers and bird head powder make up a roadbed substance that for sturdiness and endurance cannot be bettered, try though you may. Yet the heads of the thousand birds lined up on the wooden fences swiveled as the carriage rolled by. Those flat merciless eyes…growing ever darker as the receding carriage dwindled down the bird-head road, they followed its progress toward Bird Head until it disappeared into the flatness of the Nebraska landscape. A motionless fury spoke from the bird heads. As Last Drink Turner always said, Nebraska in general was no Bird Head, but at least it filled the bill—sure as the dickens was a bird-head kind of state. And when the wagon rolled into Bird Head, NE, which when you come right down to it is a hell of a state, Turner’s barroom, called The Last Drink’s Bird Head Inn, welcomed the travelers with all of the frontier bird-head spirit these desperate last-drink travelers could ask for. Last drinks were in the atmosphere, a matter some of the old cowpokes and riverboat gamblers found sufficient to dampen the eye. The floozies cheered from the balconies. Bird Head McGraw and Last Drink Turner began setting up the drinks, true to the code of the west. For those boys, it was always the same thing—love or nothing.