Western Short Story
When the Sheriff Came to Hammerfield
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

The town was raw as fish eggs or prairie beef cooked on the sly.

Nobody in Hammerfield owned up to it, so much gold found in the mines that folks, quick-rich folks, looked past any civic duties or civic calls, or civic needs for that matter, to involve themselves in such interests. Gold, if it was yours, solved everything wrong around a person; poor health, poor love-life, poor social instincts, being last one invited to a funeral.

Comfort, at any extreme, was uppermost in taste, desire, search.

But a sheriff was a top need, nevertheless, in spite of prevalent attitudes, besides the abhorrent situation, for the sake of common sense.

So, Greg Turley, saloon owner, (The Big Hammer, he called it), sent a plea to territorial powers to do some work for a change and assign a sheriff to Hammerfield before it robbed itself blind, killed itself dead, or stole away in the night to some unnamed mountain.

When Tommy Thurber showed up with the badge stuck on his chest like a pronouncement of his being, half the town broke into giggles. Tommy was a thin, skinny kind of gent, not appearing much more than a 23 or 24 years old pretender of sorts. Little about him raised the slightest bit of fear, respect for authority, or point-blank concern for his station in life, or his good intentions.

After all, badge wearers, as history has revealed, make the best targets. They usually are rugged, tall, and quick with a pistol, carry courage that takes them into most places of apparent danger, but cannot see behind large boulders, the backsides of dark buildings, shooters aiming at them from unseen stances.

An old man at a corner table of the saloon, said a number of times, “Some day the big man is coming to town.” Most folks thought he meant God.

And it was, as expected, Chug Grogan who stepped up to welcome Tommy Thurber into town.

Chug was noisy, nosey, crude as fence wire, just as knotty, but a good-shooting kind of a guy who wore a pair of irons the way they’re supposed to be worn, loose, ready, and filled-up to the touch. Practice for him had been the real thing, life hanging by a thread, a loose belt, a slower gun. Nobody kept score, but he was the winner every time out.

Nobody said aloud that he was for hire, but he always had fat money in his pockets.

And here comes a skinny kid, “like an orphan cut loose before he had growed some,” as Chug made quick note of.

“This man’s still a boy,” Chug announced, right there in the saloon, at which the skinny kid, loose and on his mighty own self, shot the gun off Chug’s right hip, a move that was quicker than lightning atop the hills.

The skinny kid said, “That’s my introduction to all of you, and ‘specially him who took it on himself to be himself, but I’ll tell all you what I’m going to do, and that’s making him my Number One Deputy, of course, ”he added, “soon as his hand heals itself with some office work, like learning the trade, as they say.”

Attention belonged solely to him, the kid Thurber.

He spun back to Chug, still holding one hand in the other, sheep-faced, brought low by a kid of a sheriff, and said, “How’s that sound to you, Chug? Think anyone in the region will take us on? Think they can whip the two of us in a fair fight or from the backside of an outhouse in the best part of the dark?”

“No. by God, nary a soul hereabouts, and I know ‘em all, could get a fair shot off on us, either one.”

And the duo was formed on the spot. Hammerfield had no idea how lawful they had become in such short order.

As it was, the pair was not tested until the following morning when the first stage due in the day showed up with two bodies in the carriage, their guns still in hand, and their satchel of funds taken from them by a few strange riders wearing masks of the hideous kind, like horror crawled on their skin and stayed a while.

The stage driver said, “These two dead men came here to buy a mine, and I figure they had enough to do it. Was the heaviest sacks I ever picked up, and they kept ‘em under their seat, bound to buy a mine. Yes siree, bound to buy a mine.”

“How many robbers, Driver?” Tommy Thurber said.

“Five of them, Sheriff. Five men, like a band of brothers, I swear. Like a band of brothers,” as though he had never seen the likes of them.

The duo walked into the saloon, Thurber whispering to his deputy on the way in. They stood facing the crowd from the bar, and the sheriff said to his new deputy, loud enough for all corners to hear, “Of all the folks here in the saloon, who’d you think’d be the best group to be considered as a band of brothers that shot up the stage from hidden spots, like cowards from out of sight?”

Chug looked around at the saloon crowd, locked his eyes on a far table in one corner and said, “Why nobody but the five over there from the Hilltop Two Ranch, who quickly rose in place, went for their guns and were shot dead by the kid Sheriff, Tommy Thurber, and his Deputy, Chug Grogan.

The stage driver, in to wet his whistle a bit, chew on gossip of any kind, carry messages of his own making, said, “Wait until they hear about this along the line. I’ll bet some folks’ll come just to say they seen this new law crew in the flesh.”

“That’s damned good thinking, Driver,” said Thurber. “It might keep some ornery folks out of here at the same time. Plain ornery don’t like other ornories. Messes up their own intentions. I’d call that a blessing in disguise. You tell ’em at all the stops that Hammerfield is now a different town than the one that used to be here just a day ago. Chug and me are going to make it a point of concern.”

It didn’t take long for new faces to show up, ask questions, like, “Where’s them special great lawmen we heard about from the stagecoach driver at the Branderville station?’

It was as though curiosity itself had mounted a horse and made the trip to Hammerfield.

Such questions were generally tossed over the bar to the barkeep, who generally replied, using only shifts of his head to say, “One’s over there, and the other one’s over there,” as he twisted his head around in slow motion, cautious as all Hell, like he was expecting a gun to go off, but never pointed out the sheriff or his deputy, only saying, “There and there.”

Suspense, as seen by the locals, was in town to stay a while; suspense and a good deal of concern about facing two starry lawmen who hung around the edges until they were needed.

The miners, a real thirsty lot who came in on Saturdays, dragging themselves to drink and often getting dragged back again to the mines, to a man, knew they had protection, unbounded protection, from the two lawmen of Hammerfield. It was after one daylight robbery when an overhead rock was dropped on a miner and his poke taken from him, when the sheriff nabbed a man, usually dry and broke, began spilling gold dust out of his pockets, that the miner identified his poke bag when shown to him.

It was another highlight that carried Hammerfield far and wide in simple folk talk that history rides on whether you believe it or not, whether it makes the books or not.

So, we all know the contestants start appearing at odd intervals, but continuous in their challenges coming out of pride, anger, jealousy, or pure conviction of wielding a super upper hand. The mode is draw and aim and get paid the dividends and spend them in a hurry to get to the next time around; death waits the unsuspecting, by the wagonload, the fastest horse, the slowest draw, the wait so circuitous it is unexpected.

The last syllable heard is merely an “Oh.”.

The pair had more escapades than ordinary sheriffs and deputies in any ordinary town, which is what Hammerfield became in a very short time.

Yet, the wait was there and the old man at the corner table, sagacious, timely, time and time again proven to have hit the nail on the head, become more than a savant but a precursor of things to come, said out of the blue, out of nowhere, “The Big Man is coming tomorrow.”

They talked about this old man of declarations as much as the badged pair that had squared away the town of Hammerfield and much of connecting territories; auspicious he was, propitious, judicious, and seemingly, a Hell of a nice guy.

Gerard Banquo was his name, owning woman of all ages because of his handsome profile, warmest smile, manly physique, and ultimate gentle manners right to the moment a trigger was pulled. All that power and grace caught bankers with fear, fellow shooters because of artful daring with a pair of pistols, “still alive after a hundred duels or more the way legends grow in their time, much the way Tommy Thurber and Chug Grogan grew as a duo founded on speed, daring, and a mind for the game of life, “Hep,” as they’d come to say in short order, “the lay of the land sits in their minds like an incision from above.”

That statement, too, came out of the old man in the corner, self-declared savant, speaker, soothsayer, smooth as a creamed cheese.

It had happened a number of times: a bank was going to take a widow’s home from her, without any source of income or hope, and the next day she’d show up at the bank and pay off her debt without a word being said of where, how and when the money had come to her. Of course, Gerard Banquo was at the core of suspicions; there was nobody like him in 1000 miles of open grass and steep mountains, a Robin Hood on horse and saddle, and carrying a bank load in his saddlebag at every turn of the road.

It went on until the bank at Twillager was robbed of a bundle of fake money, printed for such expectation, that a widow on the skids tried to pay off her debts with the fake money. She owned up quickly that Gerard Banquo had given it to her in a bundled sack.

Sheriff Thurber and Deputy Grogan cornered him in the saloon, declared him a fake, and shot him when he drew on them, Thurber announcing, “He only thought he was God.”