The Ballad of the String Vest Kid

It was the first Tuesday of the week when the String Vest Kid rode into town. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch him. Even Dirty Betty, over at the saloon, saw him arrive and she was being paid double to do that thing with a banjo on her knee that all the old 48.9ers loved to watch.

Back then, the String Vest Kid was the fastest accordionist in the west. He was the most notorious outlaw in the territories, famed for stealing more money from the banks than the banks had stolen from the people. He was one of the territory’s leading banjo hunters too. Some said that Dirty Betty’s banjo was one he had captured for her far out in the prairies where the great herds of banjos once roamed wild and free.

Those days were long gone now though. The great banjo barons had come in to the territory, staking their claims on the open prairie, taming the wild banjos and putting up their fences.

Now the wild banjos no longer roamed free. Now they were all owned, often in great herds where the banjoboys keep the herds together, branded and  ready to be driven towards the big cites up on the shores of the lakes where the was an insatiable and growing demand for fresh banjos.

But there was competition for the open prairies as the harmonica growers moved in. Meanwhile, the trappers up in the great northern woods trapped and caught the wild guitars and fiddles.

The big cities on the coasts grew and thrived. All had an insatiable demand for music. They needed fresh instruments, especially when the battles of the bands grew violent, and the number of accordion-related deaths rose to almost epidemic levels.

The law had begun to notice what was going on, especially when the bribes from the late night music venues dried up as the increasingly bloody band battles drove the paying customers away.

Some said the harmonica growers had called in the String Vest Kid. They wanted to take over the banjo ranches and the harmonica farms and make every musical instrument sold in the cities theirs.

The banjo ranchers though, were ready to fight back. Some said it was the banjo ranchers who’d hired the kid to shoot down the harmonica growers before harvest time.

Others though, just thought the Kid came into town to see Dirty Betty do that thing with the banjo on her knee one last time before he hung up his accordion and took off for the cities on the east coast and their golf courses.

Those of us who knew the kid before his golf addiction took hold, were sad to see him now with his talk of birdies, eagles, nine holes and doglegs. He had been the greatest accordion fighter, bank robber and spoons player of his generation, but now his golf-ruined hands could hardly hold a spoon, let alone handle an accordion.

When we saw Dan the Black Auditor arrive and hitch his Porsche to the rail outside the saloon where the Kid was helping Betty tune her banjo, we knew it was all over.

The String Vest kid didn’t even have a chance to strap on his accordion before Dan audited him to death.

Betty cried when they buried the Kid up on Stiletto heel hill. I guess the rest of us cried too to see an era end so sadly.

Dan the Black Auditor rode his Porsche out of town with Dirty Betty in the passenger seat with her banjo on her knee.

Out on the Great Plains the feuding between the banjo ranchers and the harmonica growers carried on as if nothing had changed.


Published by David Hadley

A Bloke. Occasionally points at ducks.

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