William Henry McCarty walked slowly down the dusty street, while mentally preparing for his gun battle. He kept the sun at his back, so its rays would be in his opponent’s eyes. The blazing sunlight cast a long shadow and his short five-foot three height threw an elongated figure. But his skinny body still wasn’t bulked up in umbrage form.
Sweat dripped down his forehead onto his neck. He reached up with his left hand and wiped the moisture from his eyes, so it wouldn’t obstruct his deadly aim. His right hand twitched near his colt.
A second boy walked behind and to the left of Henry. He scuffed his worn boots, raising clouds of dust. “I’m hot Billy, why are we here? Let’s go home. I’m bored.”
“Joey, quiet, I’m hot too. Me sugar-loaf derby hat, ain’t giving enough protection from this sun,” William Henry muttered. “This wee bonnet won’t do, methinks I’ll get a sombrero or Stenson someday.”
A small dust devil and then a tumble weed blew past the boys. Henry continued to walk down the main and only street of Silver City. Except for a hound dog panting near the run-down saloon, nothing stirred. The mutt didn’t even lift its head, just scratched with its back paw behind its ear. Joey wandered over to the dog, leaned down, began petting it. The boy collapsed in a heap.
As William continued to move forward, he surreptitiously wiped his sweaty hand on his dusty pant-leg. William looked up to make sure his opponent didn’t think he was reaching early for his gun. As there was no reaction from his foe, he put on a crooked grin and let out a small sigh.
“Bueño señor,” he yelled. “Would not want you to think I be cheating!” His hand went back to hovering near his colt.
William Henry reached the outskirts of the town. “ Compañero, ‘tis as good a place as any for you to die.” He stopped walking, and turned to directly face his opponent. Even with the sun at his back, he had to squint to see in the blazing near noon-day light.
The only sound was the whistling wind off the desert. Another bone-dry tumble weed came whirling past. High overhead, two buzzards soared on updrafts. The air had an arid smell wafting off the sands.
Some sound made Henry look upwards. He frowned and wrinkled his forehead. “Señor los busardos, I be hoping you won’t be picking me bones for your midday almuerzo.
Henry dropped his hand next to his colt. “Make your move partner. I’m really whenever you are.” His fingers trembled as rapidly as a nest of rattlers, about ready to strike.
The boy reached and pulled out his colt. His left hand leaned across and fanned the hammer as he pulled the trigger with his right hand. Three shots boomed out, piercing the body of his opponent.
“Aye, excellente!” proclaimed Henry. “Ye never got off a shot.”
From behind an outcropping of boulders, rose a lanky youth. Dressed in filthy, torn, clothes and wearing an over-sized Mexican hat. “You are quick, muchacho, that poor cactus never stood a chance.”
Henry McCarty spun towards the voice. “Begora, who the hell be ye?” He pointed his colt at the lad. The barrel trembled at first and then stabilized.
The youth held up a grimy hand. “Hold your horses, friend, I mean you no harm.” He spit a mouthful of brown saliva onto the ground. The sand swallowed it quickly. “I was just chewing and thinking about taking a siesta and heard your clomping. It’s lucky you weren’t trying to sneak up on that target practice plant. Your footsteps could wake the dead. For such a little guy, you sure tread heavy.”
Henry blushed. “I be practicing my quick draw. I be needing it soon. How is this any of ye business?”
“It ain’t any of my concern. You just disturbed my nap time.” The lad tilted his sombrero forward down his forehead. “Nice shooting by the way. All three shots would have been dead center in a man’s heart.”
“Thanks amigo. I’ll be needing my shooting iron soon. Say compañero, what be your nombre?”
“You can call me Sombrero Jack.” The tall boy pointed a grubby finger at William. “And yours cactus killer?”
“Mi nombre be Billy Henry McCarty.” William pointed his finger at his chest and his colt at Jack’s.
Jack looked startled. “Hey, don’t point that thing at me. I don’t want to git ventilated like that plant. Partner why do you palaver between terrible Spanish and worse Irish? It’s strange?”
“Everyone in Silver City, better speak Spanish if you want to survive. And I grew up in the Irish part of New York.” William gestured with the barrel of the colt as he talked. He looked down at his boots. “Sure do miss my Ma though. But not the rats!”
Jack looked startled. “You Ma didn’t move out here with you all?”
A tear sprung in William’s eye. “Naw, she did, but she died. Consumption. She didn’t go quickly.”
Jack took a step back. “You ain’t coughing is you?”
William gave a small laugh. “Naw I be no infermo. My step-pa, half-brother and me are all fine. At least I think the old man’s fine? I ain’t seen that drunk bastard of a step-father in nearly two moons. No loss though.”
“So now you just go arounds killing cactus plants?”
William aimed the colt at Jack’s chest. “Pew, pew,” he mimicked. “Just practicing my quick draw. Goin’ to be somebody someday. Maybe rob me a bank.”
Jack threw both hands up to his heart. He spun around twice and fell onto the ground. The boy looked up at William and grinned. “Yeah, I was goin’ to be a big man someday also and look at me. Dead in the dust, wearing torn filthy clothes.”
William held out his hand and pulled Jack to his feet. “Can’t help you there partner.”
Jack dusted himself off and dirt flew in the air. “Whall, if you will hold off on that there bank, we might be able to do somethin’ bout my cloth’in situation.
“¿Qué quieres decir? What?”
“I was having me a look see at Mai Ling’s Chinese laundry. He and his misses don’t take siestas, but they always leave the front room to eat lunch and drink tea the same time every day. The warsh tubs are in the back where they eat, but the drying lines are outside, in the front.”
William wrinkled his forehead and looked puzzled. “So?”
“So, lots of miner’s had heavy dungarees drying with shirts that must be better than mine?” Jack put an index finger and tickled a zip running down the side of his shirt. “Especially since this garment is full of your bullet holes.” He grinned.
“So, if you can hold off on your banking robbing career, we can get me some duds that ain’t so holey. And you can pick some pants that ain’t so high watered!”
William looked down at his pants that ended well above the top of his boots. “’Tis lucky we live in the New Mexico Territory. Not many flash floods.” Both of the knees were blown out with numerous rips and tears. “I reckon I could use some new britches that ain’t hand-me-down.”
“Then it’s settled,” said Jack. “Meet me outside the laundry, just before sunset. Don’t be late, the chinks eat quickly and then come out and pull the clothes off the line, the minute the sun goes down.”
William Henry McCarty pushed the cylinder of the colt 45 open, tilted the gun, and the three spent cartridges slid out and hit the ground. He reached into his pants pocket and extracted his last three bullets and loaded his gun. “I’ll be ready.”
The boys staked out the laundry from behind the run down boarding house. The two laundry owners hung up clothes on the lines, all the while screaming strange words in a musical language at each other. The Chinese couple finished their chores and went around the side of the laundry building.
As soon as the couple disappeared from sight, the boys crept forward. They sauntered nonchalantly across the street, while whistling. They stared in every direction, except at the laundry. As soon as they got to the cloth lines, William strode rapidly to the side of the building and peered around the corner.
“The coast is clear,” William whispered. “No one in sight.”
Jack quickly pulled garments off the two clothes lines. He tossed them on the ground in a heap. The boy did pause and hold up a pair of over-sized bloomers to his groin area and did a little dance.
William shook his head. “Quit your Tom-Foolery. Them wouldn’t fit you anyways.” William pulled the rest of the garments off the line, clutching the wet clothes up to his chest.
Jack picked up his pile. “Where should we stash these? Cain’t take them all with me. No place to put the extras.”
“You take what you need,” said William. “We’ll hide the rest under my cot in my room in the boarding house. My dumb brother Joey won’t notice and like I said, my step-pa ain’t been around for days.”
Jack grabbed a frayed, but clean work shirt and pair of pants. “Least you have a place to sleep. I’ve been bunking in the hayloft, when the stable master don’t catch me. Bastard pokes me be-hind with a pitchfork iffin I don’t’ move fast enough.”
The boys carried the pile of wet clothes down the block to the back of William’s boardinghouse. They climbed up one flight of rickety wooden stairs and entered the second floor hallway. Creeping down the hall, they entered the third door on the right, without detection.
The small dark room was barren except for three disheveled cots and one battered, open, foot locker. An empty mirror frame hung on the wall.
“Mi brother ain’t here and no pa as usual,” said William. “We can stash the stuff here.”
“In the foot locker?”
“No, I keep my colt there. Shove the clothes under the third cot. I’m going to take a better pair of pants and we can sell the rest of the clothes tomorrow.” William kicked off his worn down boots, his socks had large holes in the toes.
Jack began to walk out the door. “I’ll come back tomorrow and we can get rid of the rest of the loot. Hope your pa don’t make a surprise visit.” He closed the warped door behind him.
As William began to pull on his new pilfered pair of pants, a knock came at the door. “What diya firget Jack?” he yelled.
The door pushed open and a pot bellied man entered the room. “Mister Antrim, your-in rents weeks overdo agin. I let it slid two months ago, but I won’t again. Now….hey, where is he?”
William finished pulling up his pants. “Pa just stepped out for a while, I’m sure he’ll be back with the rent soon. Can ye come back in the morning?”
The man scratched his gut. “Damn, not again. I ain’t going to let it slide. Hey, where sis all these garments come from? You would look mighty peculiar in that there dress.”
William pushed the pile under the nearest cot with his foot. “Tomorrow, come back tomorrow for your rent.” He pushed the man toward the door. The landlord barely budged.
The man finally turned and walked toward the door. “Mighty peculiar!”
Less than one hour later a booming knocking was heard. The door flew open and a tall, lawman stood in the doorway. His gun was out and his was using the barrel to do the knocking.
“Billy McCarty,” said the sheriff. “What the Sam Hill do you think you’d get away with? Your Landlord turned you in and saw Sombrero Jack bolting down the stairs. I can see that Jack fellow doing something like this, but you never had given me a lick of trouble. You’re usually quiet and polite. What got into you?”
“Now Sheriff Thompson sir,” said William. “It ain’t what it seems. Mr. Sombrero Jack was just borrowing these clothes and was going to bring them back when they were dry.” He pushed the pile further under the cot with his foot.
“Well kid,” said the sheriff. “Borrowed. Including the pants you’re tugging right up? Sorry son, but I’m going to have to take you in.”
William tugged on his boots. “You might have me now officer, but no jail made can hold William Henry McCarty. I’ll be out in no time.”