Toppenhof was a peaceful town in North Vermont at the turn of the twenty ninth.

Peaceful, but hard.

Everyone got along or else they got shot. Those were the rules, sometimes unspoken, sometimes not.

Veritable Brixton was a courier of sorts. People on the frontier needed things delivered and they'd pay good money to make sure a package went through to their dying aunt in Gibson Bay, or their corrupt jailer in New Calcutta.

It was an unsteady job, to be sure. But he enjoyed the work. Better than anything else he’d done for money.

Lately his work had him down to the crack bottom of Champ Creek quite a bit. A long run, but not so dangerous. Scenic, too.

Now he found himself riding into Toppenhof, in the middle of a hot summer day. Slightly more dangerous, not quite so scenic.

Better money, though.

Toppenhof was the kind of place a guy could settle down in. It was real. You know, genuine. Down to earth. People were basically happy. Not a whole lot of noise.

He didn’t like noise. Never had. At the ripe old age of thirty two, anything above a whisper set his teeth on edge.

A pretty redhead walked across the road, a barmaid judging by her clothes and apron, and passed close to him and Horse. ‘Hey, stranger,’ she said.

The way she said it, perfect really. Just enough reserve to let you know she was the tasteful, dignified, self-respecting sort, but with an unmistakable something in her eye that said, ‘I’m lookin to get outta here, any way possible.’

‘Looks like you could use a drank,’ she said, almost making a song of the words. ‘Why don't you head on over to the bar when you're done your business.’

Veritable tipped his hat and smiled.

Yep, he thought, Toppenhof was the kind of place a guy could settle down.

She smiled over her shoulder as she went, then walked into a two story on the corner of one dusty unpaved street and another. The sign hanging out front described the building as _The Krappertap_. And underneath in smaller letters, _Drink til you cant_.

Beautiful, he thought.

Veritable kept riding till he had gotten to the general store, _Kayubi's Everything_.

He slid off Horse, tied her up, and walked in.

The name didn’t lie. Kayubi had everything. And then some.

Veritable walked to the counter and set the package down. He rang a bell and out from a door he hadn't seen popped a little mustachioed fella wearing glasses.

‘Hello. Can I help you?’ the little man asked.

Veritable nodded towards the package. ‘Delivery.’

‘Oh, I see,’ the man exclaimed. ‘Wonderful, wonderful.’ He grabbed the package, cut the string and unwrapped the brown paper. Out rolled a bottle with some paper tied around it.

The man shook the bottle, sloshing around the greenish black liquid inside. ‘Perfect,’ he said. ‘Thank you, sir.’ He looked up at Veritable and realized the transaction had not completed yet. The little man put up his finger and walked back through the door he had come from, leaving the bottle on the counter.

Veritable looked around the store again, wondering if there were anything in here worth his interest. He decided the only things worth his interest were food and a comfortable place to sleep.

He returned his attention to the bottle on the counter. He could make out a few words of handwriting on the other side of the paper. _Hellfog Protectorant._

Good God, Veritable thought, people will buy anything.

‘Here you go, sir.’ The little man was back, holding out a clenched fist, a happy smile on his face.

Veritable reached out a gloved hand, felt the envelope drop onto it, stuffed it in his pocket. The small man nodded.

Veritable walked out the door. Of course he'd count the cash later, but the storekeeper would take it as a sign of respect he didn’t do it in front of him and maybe use Veritable for his next delivery.

All in a good day's work.

Now for a drink and a conversation with that self-respecting barmaid.

Source photo by Matt Lee.

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