Monday, September 11, 2023

Harborville, fiction by Robert Lopresti

“Where’s the harbor?”

Loney was forking hot dogs off the rollers in what passed for the kitchen of the Tumble Inn Tavern. He turned to face the bar. “’Scuse me?”

“Where’s the harbor?” The newcomer was a big man, built like a bear, with a lot of dark curly hair and a week’s worth of beard. “That little lake down there barely rates a pier. So if this is Harborville, where is it?”

Loney grinned, showing some missing teeth. “In the cemetery.”

The Bear frowned. “The what?”

“Our town was founded by Josiah Tiberius Harbor in 1893. He’s gone to his reward, so the Harbor—”

“Yeah, I get it. You just love that joke, don’t you?”

“It’s a good one!”

“It’s a peach.” With a visible effort the Bear dragged up a new facial expression. It bore some resemblance to a friendly smile. “Well. Nice little town you’ve got here.”

“Thanks! We like it. Can I get you something to eat? Or drink?”

The Bear looked around the little tavern, casting a dubious eye at the plastic-wrapped sandwiches on the counter and the wieners rotating on the warmer. One grubby customer huddled at a dusty table at the far end of the room. “A beer would be good.”

“We got two choices on tap—”

“I’ll take anything in a bottle. Or a can.”

Loney fetched up a bottle and a glass.

The Bear ignored the glass and carefully wiped off the bottle top and neck with a paper napkin before opening it.

“This town’s a bit off the beaten path, isn’t it? I drove almost two hours after I got off the highway.”

“Yep,” said Loney. “Keeps things nice and quiet, mostly.”

“I bet.” He swallowed beer. “Guess you get a lot of skiers this time of year, though.”

“Nope. Hills ‘round here just ain’t steep enough. People have tried that country club skiing—”

“Cross country skiing? Jeez.” The Bear shook his head.

“Right! But those hills are tricky. Few years ago a nice couple from Denver went through a sinkhole. Ever since then the state tourist agency has been warning people away from these parts.”

“What happened to the people from Denver?’ asked the Bear, sipping beer. “Did they fall hard enough to die?”

Nah.” Loney grinned again. “Just broke some bones.”

“Well, that’s not—”

“It was the wolves that got ‘em.”


“Coulda been mountain lions, but they usually stay up higher. Scared of the rattlesnakes.”

The Bear had finished his beer. “Friendly little place.”

“We like it. You ready for another one?”

“Why not? Say, this is so interesting I almost forgot why I’m here.” He opened the messenger bag over his shoulder and pulled out a photograph. “Have you seen this guy around?”

Loney gave it a careful look. “Hey, you know what? This look like one a them, whatcha call it, espresso shots.”

The Bear stared. “Excuse me?”

“You know. Coffee cups. Like the cops use.”

“Mug shots?” The Bear shook his head. “Coffee cups, jeez. Okay, take a look at this espresso shot. You ever see this guy?”

Loney squinted at the picture. He held it close to his face, and then at arm’s length. “Nope. Can’t say I have.”

“You sure?”

“Sure as rain in July.”

“Do you—” The Bear blinked. “You get a lot of rain in July here?”

“Clear through summer, most years.”

“Hell of a town.”

“We like it.”

“Who else could I ask about a stranger passing through? You got a police station or something?”

“Sheriff’s got a substation in Glamour. That’s over the hill yonder.”

“Let me guess. This Glamour is in the cemetery too.”

“Nope. Nobody knows why they named the place that. Ain’t no glamour about it at all. It’s a dumpy little place, not like Harborville.”

“I suppose I’ll give it a miss then.”

“But I’ll tell you, mister. The fella you oughta see about—”

“Lemme take a look at that picture,” said the only other customer in the place. He was a short guy with a crew-cut and a Van Dyke beard. He wore a lumberjack shirt and on it, he wore some of his lunch.

“We haven’t seen this guy, Mace,” said Loney.

“Maybe you haven’t,” said Mace. “You wouldn’t see your socks if they climbed up your chin. Gimme.”

He scowled at the photo. “Yup. He was here, lemme think, two days ago. Three? What’s today anyway?”

“Friday,” said the Bear. He was all attention now.

“Then it would have been Tuesday. I saw this guy in the Mercantile buying camping supplies.” He looked up. “He drove a Jeep. Does that sound right?”

“Could be!” said the Bear.

“Mace thinks ever car is a Jeep or a Beetle,” said Loney, scowling. “He ain’t what they call a reliable lie witness.”

The Bear ignored him. “What else do you remember?”

“That’s easy,” said Mace. “This guy rented one of Hogan Carball’s cabins.”

The Bear put his forgotten bottle down on the bar. “Can you show me where the cabin is?”

“Oh, it’s a ways out of town, up in the hills.”

“Can you tell me how to get there?”

‘Sure,” said Mace. “You go up past White Ridge, and travel two, maybe three miles over the bald there. You pass the fields where Missy Shrover used to graze her cattle, back before she caught the fever. Then you come to a sort of ravine. Well, more of a gulch. Loney, would you call it a gulch or a ravine?”

The bartender looked disgusted. “I’d call it a waste of time.”

“Wait a minute,” said the Bear. He was shuffling through his messenger bag. “I’ve got a topographic map of the area. “Can you show me where the cabins are?”

Mace gave the big page a good look. “Wrong map, mister. This is mostly west of Harborville and you need east. You got one of them smartphones? You could download the right one.”

“I can’t get a signal in this godforsaken—” The Bear shook his head. He dredged up another smile. “I don’t suppose there’s a place around that sells topos?”

“Course there is,” said Mace. He looked at Loney. “What kind of dump would Harborville be if we didn’t have an outdoor equipment store?”

“A pitiful place,” said Loney. “Like Glamour. All they got there is a five and dime. And you can’t buy anything in it for a dime, so it’s fraud, if you ask me. But mister, I don’t care how many maps you buy. You’d be crazy to go up in them hills when they’re covered with snow like now. I told you about the sinkholes. Them poor folks from Denver--

“Yeah.” The Bear frowned. “Could I hire a guide?”

“No tourist guides around Harborville,” said Mace. “Don’t get enough visitors to make it worth the bother. ‘Sides, everyone who lives here knows the hills, so it’s not like anybody needs no fancy training--”

“Stop,” said the Bear. His grin was real now. “Could you lead me to the cabin?”

Mace looked surprised. “Well. I could, but this time of year, that would take a couple of days. You said it’s Friday?”

“That’s right.”

“We couldn’t get back before Sunday night. I’d miss church.”

Loney snorted.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” said the Bear.

“Why the heck do you want to find this guy?” asked Loney. “You some kinda county hunter?”

“Bounty hunter, jeez. Yes, I am.”

“So, there’s a reward for this guy,” said Mace. “Why should I take you up to find him? I could just go get him and collect the reward myself.”

The Bear stayed cool. “You don’t want to do that. He’s a dangerous man. That’s why there’s a reward for him.”

Mace scowled. “If he’s so dangerous, why should I go anywhere near him?”

“Because I’m dangerous too.” The Bear opened his wool coat and showed a shoulder holster. It was full to the brim with something nasty.

Loney let out a whistle.

Mace nodded, all business now. “You know how to use snowshoes?”

“What? No.”

“There we need snowmobiles. You can rent two at Percy’s Go-Snow. You got a tent? Sleeping bag?”

“No tent. One bag.”

“Well, I ain’t sharing yours. I’ll make up a list of the other supplies we need.” He slapped his hands together. “Let’s get on the stick!”

The Bear followed him out the door, leaving a single dollar tip.

As soon as they were gone Loney picked up his phone.

“We got trouble, Mr. Mayor. Get over here.”

Five minutes later Sam Tyler walked in. The mayor of Harborville was a sweet-faced old codger with a droopy moustache. “What’s wrong?”

“We had a bounty hunter in here looking for David Wayne Esterhaze.”

Tyler frowned. “So? What’s the problem?”

“So Mace was here. He identified the picture.”

“Shoot.” The old man scratched his chin. “It’s Frank’s turn, isn’t it?”

“Supposed to be. Frank ain’t gonna be happy.” Loney tossed his towel on the bar. “But it’s worse. Mace said he was gonna take the guy out to Hogan’s cabins.”

“Son of a gun. Isn’t that where Augie took the last one?”

“Yeah.” Loney made a face. “He’s still out there with him, hunting around for the bad guy. We don’t want those two visitors to meet and compare notes.”

Sam nodded. “You better tell Frank to go warn Augie.”

Loney took off his apron. “Will do. Mace said he was taking the White Ridge route, so Augie will have to bring his man home by Spider Creek.”

“Good. And tell Frank to say Esterhaze was seen—”



“Angie’s hunter came looking for Winthrop Bayweather.”

Sam Tyler frowned. “How many wanted men have we sent out tips on?”

“This month?” Loney pondered. “Just the two.”

“Well, Frank can tell ‘em Bayweather was seen out by the Smithson Ranch. Smitty could use some rental money.” He sighed. “I did some calculating last week. On average, by the time a bounty hunter gets fed up and goes away he has spent nearly two grand on equipment, rentals, and guides. Harborville needs that cash.”

“I know. So we gotta do something about Mace.”

“Yeah.” Tyler ruffled his moustache. “When I ran for mayor and proposed this scheme, you remember what Mace suggested? He said instead of sending anonymous emails to bounty hunters we ought to send invitations to the criminals.”

Loney snorted.

Tyler slumped on a bar stool. “”I had to point out that criminals are even more dangerous than the hunters, plus they don’t generally have email accounts.”

“Mace ain’t the sharpest ax in the shed.”

The mayor snorted. “More like the handle of a butter knife.”

He’s gonna have to split his fee with Frank.”


Loney frowned. “What if he won’t behave himself? We can’t exactly kick him out of town.”

The mayor grinned. “I suppose we can threaten to send him to the Harbor.”

Robert Lopresti is a retired librarian who lives in the Pacific Northwest. His novel GREENFELLAS is a comic caper about the mob trying to save the environment. “Harborville” is his 99th published short story. He blogs regularly at SleuthSayers and Little Big Crimes.


  1. Good one! This was funny and had an awesome twist at the end. Harborville's got a great little niche industry going for it!