Western Short Story
The small mustached man sipped on his fine glass of sherry like an anxious dog gnawing on a bone. His beady eyes were transfixed on the second hand of the Grandfather clock that stood proudly at the room’s end. Just as the chime struck 9pm, he turned worryingly to his companion and said, “Are you sure he’s gonna’ come?”
“Off course he will. Now relax,” replied the calmer presence.
But those words did little to appease his soul. Time was running out and with it all his options. If this man was to be his saviour then he’d better show up fast. Or else Bob Baxter would have to find another hero.
“You did tell ‘im to come here between eight thirty and nine?” he asked agitatingly.
“I told you before Bob that I’d left a message at his hotel. I didn’t speak to ‘im in person,” stated Jim Gardner firmly. “But he’ll come, I promise ya.”
“Mmmhhh,” murmured Baxter as he reclined deeper into his velvet armchair, unimpressed at being slightly scolded. He was a man of importance. A figure to be respected and revered. Not instead to be corrected or delayed. He’d give this friend of Gardner’s another five minutes. That was all. And then he’d leave.
His eyes darted around the room. Its luxuriously varnished oak furniture and feminine cushioned chairs were now oblivious to his pupils. All he saw was a blur of pretty colours. Fit for a lady’s beauty parlour.
“What do ya’ think of Bessie’s?” inquired Gardner charmingly as another ring of smoke flew softly from his cigared lips. “Fine place to spend an evening, eh?”
Standing up quickly in a petulant huff, Bob Baxter grabbed his black top hat and replied smartly, “Punctuality ain’t a strength of his!”
“No! But getting results are!” retaliated the tall, brooding figure who quickly entered the swish room.
“Tom!” smiled his friend, Gardner, as he turned to the strong, familiar voice. “You made it!”
“Jim, you can always count on me,” charmed the handsome soul who shook his hand heartily.
“Yeah, I sure can,” answered the old man warmly.
“Not to be a spoilsport, Mr, but you’re a half hour late,” interrupted the moustached man rudely.
“Well, now, that depends on what clock you use,” answered the strongly built figure that was now in his face.
“Thomas Murphy...” stated Baxter seriously.
“That’s my name,” he replied quickly.
“Don’t wear it out. It’s the only one I’ve got,” joked the man facing him.
“You were supposed to be here between eight thirty and nine. That clock clearly says ten past nine,” replied the beady eyed man, unimpressed.
“So it does,” smiled Murphy casually.
“Then you’re at least ten minutes late!” rasped Bob Baxter smugly.
“Yeah...if that was right,” replied the dashing figure, pointing to the cause of all this worry.
“What d’ya’ mean?” inquired the small businessman, perplexed at this statement.
“Well, now, Bessie, wily ole lady that she is,” charmed Thomas Murphy “has all the clocks in these private rooms fixed a half hour fast. It gets those hungry men out of here quicker. All except me ‘cos I know the lowdown.”
“So it’s only twenty to nine?” asked the black-moustached man embarrassingly.
“Yes it is. So I’m early. Or on time, to be more precise,” grinned Murphy proudly.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed the white haired Jim Gardner. “You never fail to impress me, Murph.”
His pal gently waved his right hand in acknowledgement as Baxter scowled in annoyance.
“So, Mr...” inquired the handsome man “what can I do for you?”
“It’s Mr Robert Baxter. The most respected man in the business.”
“Which is?” responded Murphy quickly.
“The invention, design and manufacture of firearms,” stated the sherry drinking, little fellow.
“He’s a very interesting chap,” interrupted Gardner in a friendly tone of voice.
“Uh-huh?” wondered his long time pal.
“Yes Mr Murphy. I’m a man of considerable expertise,” responded Baxter surely. “The firm I work for, Vexler & Brown, will soon be the No 1 pistol manufacturer in the state.”
“So why haven’t I heard of them?” asked the brown haired Murphy.
“Because we are working behind the scenes on a new invention. One which will transform every saloon, cattle ranch and law court from here to the good ole Mississippi,” stated Baxter smarmily.
“Which is?” he asked swiftly.
“A Seven Shooter Pistol,” answered the little man smugly.
“A Seven Shooter! Come on, you’re havin’ me on,” replied Murphy incredulously.
“Why would I joke about my business?” asked Baxter seriously.
“I don’t know...to prove you have a sense of humor,” joked the man in black.
“Oh, very good, Mr Murphy, just insult me! Very professional!” stated the businessman sourly.
“Now listen here weasel, you asked for my help and since I’ve been here you’ve been nonstop rude. And I hate rude! It disagrees with me. So shut up or ship out!” volleyed Thomas Murphy furiously.
With that, Jim Gardner stood up angrily as he could see the look of horror on Bob Baxter’s face and knew what this might lead to - a cancellation of their little job together.
“Now Now gentlemen! Now! Now!” he calmly said. “We’re all civilised men and civilised men should use a pencil and not a spade! Bob, let me top you up. Murph, how was your little trip to Rakers Hill? Any fun along the way?”
“Yeah,” replied Murphy coolly as he poured himself a glass of whiskey “The usual rough and tumble.”
“That’s good Tom. By the way, that whiskey’s brand new, from Tennessee. Very sweet and easy drinkin’,” charmed his friend.
As Thomas Murphy grinned in approval of its texture, Bob Baxter sat back down and drank his newly-filled liquid.
“Right! With your permission, Bob, I’ll give Tom the gist of what this is all about. Okay?” asked Gardner, caringly.
The firearms expert nodded his head despondently while the handsome gun-for-hire put his feet up and took a seat to listen.
“Okay, now Bob here,” stated Gardner like a lawyer in a courtroom “is the proud inventor of the Seven Shooter Gun. He was passing through town this morning on the way to Elm Hall. In his possession was the prototype. Just outta’ town, down near the old graveyard, Bob and his friend were held up by two disguised men. One of them was on a white horse with black spots and the other man had a hand missing. They stole the gun, shot his friend and gave Mr Baxter an awful fright. Then off they went in the direction of the Sadler ranch. Bob here, then came back into town and looked for help. That’s where I came in. And now you, Tom.”
Mr Baxter nodded his head again in a clear seal of approval. Then spoke out clearly “I’ll give you a grand now and another grand when you return my property.”
“That’s a good deal Tom,” stated Gardner wisely.
“Yeah...it’s not bad. It’ll keep me goin.’ But I’m a little concerned,” he said caringly.
“About what, Mr Murphy?” asked Baxter confidently.
“About who this Seven Shooter Gun will be sold to.”
“Ha!” laughed the moustached man arrogantly. “It will be sold to any man who has enough money to buy it.”
“Exactly what I thought,” said Murphy, disapprovingly.
“What’s the matter, Murph?” asked his elderly friend.
“Well, now, it’s like this Jim, the money’s fine. I think this gun’s a great idea – in theory. And I command you Mr Baxter on your achievement,” stated Murphy seriously. But then his tone changed to a more solemn note “But I don’t live in theory. I live in practise. And in practise, this gun will be the sneakiest little devil to hit all the lands we call home. It will wreak havoc among men who are already wild enough.”
“What are you saying?” interrupted Baxter angrily.
“I’m sayin’ that when you face a man alone and the man faces you, there’s a certain code of ethics. He’s got six bullets and so have you. Not every gunslinger’s as good as they say. Sometimes the last man standin’ has had to use all his bullets. Then sometimes both men are still alive. But if one of them now has a Seven Shooter, he’s got the devil on his side. And I never liked his little tune.”
“Nonsense!” vipered Baxter fiercely. “What if he has a shotgun or Gatling gun? Then he certainly has an advantage. Don’t see you complaining about that.”
“That’s because men like you, who make money out of death, very rarely have to face it down. But I do and so do many more who are only tryna’ get by. We live in the scraps that life has to offer while men like you throw the scraps away. And if a man sees a shotgun or a Gatling looking straight at him, then he doesn’t do the long, lonely walk. Instead he jumps for cover.”
“Wow! This is great!” said the businessman, sarcastically. “I thought you said that this guy was the best! A loveable rogue who does the job, dodges bullets and gets the ladies. Not a morally annoying saint!”
“Oh, I get the ladies. As for dodging bullets, I do no better than the next man. Only I’ve smaller organs,” smiled Murphy proudly.
“Murph, this is a good job. What are ya’ playin’ at?” asked Gardner disappointedly.
“Jim, I’ve just come from one sneaky little episode. I hardly want to try another. My luck will run out soon. What about the Wilder job?”
“Ah, that’s off now,” replied Gardner.
“Ah, Jim, that was nice and easy. This is...” Murphy stopped as Baxter stood back up and walked towards the door.
“A total waste of time!” rasped the beady eyed man to Jim Gardner. He opened up the door petulantly and walked out in a huff. The door was swinging back shut when a loud voice filled the air.
“Wait!” shouted Thomas Murphy as he held time firmly in his palm. His eyes were deep in thought and his cheeks were full of feeling.
Bob Baxter slowly re-entered the room.
“I’ll do it,” stated the gun-for-hire. “For two grand now and another grand when I return your little pistol.”
“What?” asked the businessman, bemused.
The man in black turned around slowly and faced his potential client. “The way I see it, your thief will have another bullet in the chamber so I deserve another grand in my pocket. Especially since it’s the only gun you’ve got.”
For probably the first time since they met, Bob Baxter respected the handsome man. Business was business and this man at last had shown the scruples that he admired. He smiled a little grin, then pulled a drawing from his jacket and handed it to Murphy as he spoke. “Just in case you can’t count, this is what the gun will look like.”
Thomas Murphy laughed at his quip, but this time not in sarcasm but in appreciation. He held his hand out to shake.
The moustached man shook it firmly in agreement. Then he handed him two grand and wrote him out a note for the final payment. “Bring the gun back here when you’ve got it, then Jim can call me and I’ll pick it up.”
“Great!” replied Murphy warmly. “It’s been a pleasure doin’ business with ya’?”
Now it was Baxter’s turn to laugh before he pushed quickly out the door.
When the two friends were all alone, Gardner shook his head in cheerful shock and said “You’re some man, Tom. Some man.”
“Yeah, ain’t I,” charmed Murphy lovingly.
The next morning as the pale blue sky warmed up from the rising Sun, Thomas Murphy was on his way out of town. He was delighted to have his trusted friend back with him. His horse, Red. For the previous few weeks, this team of devil-may-care adventurers had been apart. Red had pulled a calf muscle in an earlier escapade and Murphy would never put his pal’s welfare at unnecessary risk. Now fully healed, the black stallion was even stronger than before. And more graceful.
Coming up towards the old graveyard where Baxter had been robbed, the duo’s pairs of eyes scowered among the ruins in search of any helpful clues. But this holy place was devoid of any debris which didn’t fit in well. Instead only the headstones of long departed souls and a crumbled down white wall which surrounded them, stood in proud stature. Not an inkling of a footprint, scrap of clothing or strand of human hair violated this sacred place.
Maybe the shootout took place further out, thought Murphy? It’s possible that Baxter could’ve been robbed anywhere in this area.
So just to be sure he checked all the clay filled soil in a hundred foot perimeter around the graveyard. But once again, the same result, nothing. Not a shred of evidence.
So on they went in their journey. Stopping next at the Sadler ranch. It was a dilapidated little wooden house with a horse and small wagon out in front. Murphy called out to see if anyone was there but no answer came flooding back. He had a quick look around but couldn’t find anyone so he decided to head south to the next stop on the way. The border.
Since it was only thirty miles away, they could go at a good pace and get there by nightfall. So the two adventurers sped off in pursuit of the mysterious robbers.
It was a nice, pleasant ride through luscious green and golden plains of softly swaying fields of grass. They massaged the ankles of Murphy’s horse, Red, as he galloped ever closer to their target. With each stride he took, his newly-healed calf felt tested and rejuvenated. Getting stronger by the second.
His friend, meanwhile, sat perched up above, his eyes searching out for those they sought. Deciphering through the trails that went this way and that, here and there on the soft ground beneath their feet. Working out which footprints were possibly from the horses that they trailed.
Then after riding for three hours, a puzzle of the most important kind presented itself upon them swiftly. Below their feet now lay in front, where once there was a two horse trail, a fork in the grass.
Murphy halted Red quickly. Then he leapt down off his horse and landed on the ground. With fierce firm eyes, he lowered his upper body and walked to the jigsaw which was present. Stopping where it started, he hunched down on his knees and examined closely the prints upon the surface. If he had to lay a bet, he would put his marker down that two horses and their riders had gone their separate ways. Could this be the men he hunted? Or had he missed the path which they took? And if it was those he wanted, which one had the Seven Shooter in his palm?
It would have to be a guess and a guess was all he had so he lifted up his eyes and looked out in front. The trail to his left would cross the border first but only a tiny timid village was around for miles. Or on the journey to his right, the border wouldn’t surface for another twenty miles but prosperity lay plentiful in the towns on its way. What would these villains do, if they’d split up and gone their separate ways? Would the safety of the left or the wealth of the right be closer to their nasty wishes?
Murphy pondered long, putting his mind and soul in the place of the thieves that he sought. What would I really do? How would I really feel? And which trail would I go on?
Then decision filtered in and his mind was solidified with the action which he now undertook. He hopped back up on Red, then turned him to the left and started on the path which he had set his soul to conquer. Gently they trotted on and on, their eyes still working through the ground in front to make sure no clues were lost to them.
They kept this up for the next few hours until the grassy plains disappeared. In their place now stood a deep, dropping valley of barren soil and awkward stones. The strong two hills which stood on either side were sharp in their steepness. They signified the leaving of the West for the land of the bandits. Mexico was at the bottom of this tricky trail. And the white-stoned sparse village known as Del Moros was the first port of call. Or to be more exact, the only settlement for fifteen miles.
Slowly and gently, the two focussed pals stepped down the sweeping terrain. Inch by inch by inch their bodies lowered down the slippery slope. A fizzy cloud of dust began to raise its head up and all around them. Seeping into their coughing nostrils. Scraping along their skin. And sapping all their moisture out.
Dizziness was longing to be the feeling in their brains. But Murphy and Red were too long in the tooth to let their senses be controlled. They had a job to do and to do it they would set themselves. So as the little border town grew larger with each shard of light, its design began to take shape. Three simple stone buildings made up this place. The first and last were both two storied structures. In the middle, the second one sat proudly as a one storied cantina. They could tell this by the loud, boisterous noises that flushed out its flapping, swinging doors.
Moving closer and closer to this happy house of pleasure, the horses that stood outside became more recognisable. Black, brown, black again, black in parts, then white, whoa! Hold on a second, thought Murphy rapidly. What did I see? Black in parts?
His eyes scanned the horse in question as he tried to remember the description? What was it? Oh yeah...white with black spots. Is there any white? Is there...any white? Wait...Wait...Wait...Yes, it is, white with black spots. That’s the one! That’s the one I want!
Now how will I play this, thought the man in black? Should I stick to my original plan? Or change it to my backup? Eh...always go with my gut feeling. So my first will either be my best or be my last. It better be my best, so!
Wasting no time at all, Thomas Murphy dismounted and tied Red up. Then tilting his black, proud hat down, he swaggered towards the creaking, wooden half doors. As he came nearer and nearer to the dark, empty vacuum, the Sun that for so long had been his shoulder’s neighbour, now hopped up and ran away. Into a hidden corner. Instead the cold, clear finality of what a simple walk can really be, enveloped on his mind. One of the robbers could be here? And he could have the sneaky gun by his side? So every gesture, every raised eyebrow, every spoken vowel counted. If he was to keep on living?
Now he stood before the entrance to his fate. Darkness was the only image that he could see beyond the doors. It was like looking into a tunnel of hell where uncertainty was the only certainty present. He softly pushed the wooden swingers open. As he did a gust of terror-filled adrenaline swept onto his face and down his body. Followed by the loud, booming voices of the drinkers present. He could recognise some of the words spoken but not all, as the Mexican tongue wasn’t his greatest gift. But he knew enough to keep him going.
Suddenly, like a plant opening its leaves to the light, a male image appeared to his left. It leaned against the long bar that sped into the darkness. His scruffy, wild black hair and unkempt beard rolled his lips around a stumpy cigar. The black, staring eyes asked Murphy what he wanted.
Knowing when to talk and when to keep his station, Thomas Murphy did the only sane thing. He leaned his tough body against the bar and said strongly “Tequila.”
Two seconds later, a small dirty glass appeared near his outstretched hand. He swigged it back fiercely. Then planted it down hard on the counter.
“I’d like to buy a horse,” stated Murphy powerfully. “The white one with the black marks.”
A gasp of quietness flooded around the darkened room as the hidden men took his words in. It was as if a hallowed place had been disturbed. Then out of the black pit a figure slowly walked. Its size smaller than what Murphy had expected. The white linen clothes and Sun reflecting hat giving the presence a kind feel.
Now the figure stood inquiringly before the brave man and spoke in a gentle voice. “I own the horse, Gringo. You wanna’ buy?”
Murphy looked at this unimposing figure and wondered had he got the wrong man. Surely he was not a robber that he sought? But past experience told him that anyone could be evil. Or evil could be hidden anywhere. So he kept to his plan.
“Yeah. I’d like to buy it. How much you want?”
The slender youth walked right past him and out the cantina. Murphy was perplexed but turned around and followed him anyway. The Mexican boy was now standing by the horses. He patted his right hand on one and looked at the buyer.
“Is this the one?” he asked coolly.
“Yeah. That’s it,” replied Murphy.
“One hundred dollars.”
“Wow! That’s an awful lot,” the man in black returned. “Is he quick?”
“Oh yeah, he’s quick, Gringo. Like a steam train,” answered the proud seller.
“How long you have ‘im?” inquired Murphy casually as he walked towards him.
“Me? Oh, five years!” stated the boy eagerly.
Murphy was no physiciatrist but he knew a liar when he heard one. This boy, he figured, had never been up on the horse in question. Probably never patted him on his side. And the click of a pistol behind him said that he was right.
“Move into the middle of the road,” ordered a deep growl in his ears.
Thomas Murphy did as he was told. As he walked slowly, he could feel the deep murmuring breaths of the man behind.
“Now turn around,” stated the mean voice.
Slowly and with cautious movements, the man in black did as he was ordered. Piece by tiny piece an image began to form. Soon it was a fierce picture. Of a solid, saliva dropping grunt of a man. Covered in dusty, dusky rags and torn tatters of clothing.
“I own the horse. And I ain’t sellin’! Unless you can beat me?” jeered the sneering rascal.
“Beat you at what?” inquired Murphy innocently.
“Don’t play the fool. You know what. Just like you don’t want my horse. You want me,” rasped the crazy-eyed quarreller.
“But you got your gun already drawn,” replied Murphy incredulously.
“Well then you’ll have to overcome that. Won’t you?” snapped the cretin viciously.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Exploded into the air as Murphy unleashed his rocket launchers. As he did, he crouched onto his knees to dodge the returning fire. But he had moved so quickly that his enemy had been astonished. By the quick mind and hands of Murphy. The portly, nasty scoundrel fell backwards and landed with a bang onto the ground. As dead now as the burnt soil he lay upon.
If there were any spectators, some might say that the man still alive had drawn before his time. But others would’ve argued that when a man holds a gun at you and threatens your existence, fair play goes out the window. Especially if you want to live.
And living was a thing that Murphy loved. So he quickly got to his feet and walked over to the slain enemy. Looking down at him, his eyes made sure that he was gone. Satisfied that his soul was absent, Thomas went to check his pistol. He wasn’t sure before if the gun was the right one. Now as he held it, he knew for certain that it wasn’t any different to the next. So his partner may still have it.
“Hey kid,” asked Murphy to the Mexican youth who was now beside him, “you didn’t see a one handed man by any chance?”
“Oh yes, Gringo. Very funny! The two of them come into town on same horse,” he replied laughing.
“What?” asked Murphy, dumbfounded.
“Yeah. One handed man buy horse here and leave just before you come.”
“Which way?” asked Murphy quickly.
“That way!” he answered, pointing to the South.
Suddenly Murphy leapt up off the ground and ran to his horse. A few moments later the two chasing heroes were speeding out the town. Galloping onwards along the white clay earth. Particles of dust lifted up after them.
A long, narrow wooden bridge was veering towards their eyes. It spanned across an extremely deep, never-ending gorge. The closer and closer they got to it, the longer the gorge was to their right and left, and the wider the bridge seemed to be. But even more amazing was the height which it travelled over.
As they came closer towards it, the two astonished heroes could now see that the drop was a thousand feet. A thousand feet of horror!
What was that up in front, thought Murphy quickly? On the bridge? Is it a man and horse? Is it? Is it? Yes it is!
Quickly but quietly, Thomas and Red started moving along the wooden planks of safety. But as they did, the wood below began to make some noise. It was like its purpose was to inform the couple in front that they were being followed.
Suddenly as Murphy looked down at the bridge’s structure to make sure they moved safely, a surprising speeding bullet clipped him in his left shoulder.
“Aaahhh!!!” he screamed out in anguish as the cartridge gave him pain.
Then Boom! Boom! Terrorised the wide open space as two more bullets flew his way. But this time, they missed his precious body and merely shook his eardrums with the noise. Falling forward onto Red’s mane, Murphy panted in awful anguish. As he did, his eyes caught sight of the villain out in front. He had turned his horse around and was coming back to finish.
In pain he may be but survival was his only thought so Murphy quickly pulled his weapon from the holster. Then he aimed it at the target and pulled the silver trigger. A vicious cartridge thundered out and torpedoed at the monster. Followed swiftly after by another speeding saviour. The first merely scorched the wooden plank that was before the villain’s horse. But the second caught the poor animal at his ankle.
“Whoaaa!” shouted out the poor creature as he took a mighty tumble. The two villains crashed forward and the man fell off.
But as he did, he unleashed another two bullets. One caught the handrail that was nearest to Murphy’s right. The second was a different matter for it grazed the hero’s head and knocked his strong, black hat off his head. He tumbled back with the fright and swayed Red from side to side. Then deciding he’d had enough of his present vantage point, Murphy climbed off his horse and dropped down.
Walking now towards him like a crazy silent fool, it was clear to Thomas Murphy that it was the one handed man. For his left arm lay down with a stump at the end, while his right held the gun in his palm. Murphy pushed his pal away from him, then stood quickly up and fired. An amazing charging missile sped through the air and crashed into the beast’s left chest. It pushed him back violently and in return he fired with full force. Sending a nasty metal arrow back the other way. It tore through Murphy’s right leg with a viciousness that he never felt before.
He collapsed onto his side and screamed out in pain. Facing him, the one handed villain now leaned against the handrail to Murphy’s left. Thomas Murphy pulled the trigger once more but this time nothing ventured forth. He tried again but still nothing left. Suddenly an awful thought swept into his brain – I never reloaded my gun after killing his partner. And the monster facing me has only fired six. So he’s one left in the barrel.
Realising also that Murphy was out of bullets, the evil silent robber grinned in leering fashion. Then he pulled himself upright and squeezed his gun again. To send forth that final special seventh one. But hold on a second, nothing happened. He tried again but still the same. Nothing. Where the hell was the seventh bullet, the evil villain thought? Then his mistake flooded in. He was so used to putting six bullets in the chamber that he forgot to drop the seventh in.
Knowing that something was wrong and he was unbelievably still alive, Murphy acted thunderously. He pulled a bullet from his belt and loaded his silver pistol. Then he breathed out in a hopeful huge breath and pulled the scared trigger.
The world was silent for what seemed forever. And then a moment later, a loud boom signified the whole truth. The one handed scoundrel screamed out in bitter pain as the bullet tore his flesh. He crashed back violently against the wooden rail, smashing it at its weakest point and then fell through the gap. He disappeared from Murphy’s sight and stormed through the air towards the dry river bed a thousand feet below. Carrying with him not only his defeated body and soul but also the one and only Seven Shooter Gun.