Ranch Romance
Bullet for Bullet
Tom Sheehan


Ranch Romance

Joe Redd could never balance an argument between friends, locked as he was in favoring both temporary enemies, as he might have termed his discussion with self. Friends were friends and the lines should never be crossed, even when girls or bullet counts joined the discussions. He was known as laid-back, undecided, mute as a dead mule in arguments involving one of more of his friends, and twice as hard when both were his pals from way back.

Nor could luck and guesswork matter in such predicaments.

Those stances of his never changed until the day came when he stood 40 feet apart from his best friend, Alec Murray on the lone road through Stretch Hill, Montana. Life often had its shortcomings no matter which way you looked.

The day started in good fashion, with a bright sun, the arrival of a stagecoach om its early start and first stop, letting off a slender girl that was sure to start some kind of attention, and action, plus or minus according to your views on womanhood. Some cowboys were bound to say good-lookers only mean trouble, and comfort in marriage requires a talent in the kitchen, when meal time comes about; eating comes ahead of drinking, no two ways about the argument for those bound to the saddle hours atop hours, often darkness to darkness.

In the current case, Alec Murray, Joe Redd’s best pal, made the first move on the girl Joe first called Trim Tessie and in short order saw it twisted to Mamie Woods, a gal who came to live with her married sister living on a small ranch outside town where a stretch of hills made its first steps upward toward Stretch Hill, giving the town its name, and the name to the saloon, Stretch Hill Rest Stop.

The old West, indeed, did not lack a sense of humor, in lingo, choice curses, or sign-painting, if you will.

No story stops there: it lopes along like a horse at the end of the day. A critter ready for hay and rest, if they dare show their heads.

When Joe heard that Alec had practically attacked the new love of Joe’s life, it dropped the hammer on friendship in a split second. The sound was hear up and down the road, and most of the town; friends, it said, riding partners, never do each other out of the goods in life, any way one looks at it.

As it was, Joe spotted, later that day, Alec in a tussle of a sort with the lady of their lives, grabbing at her clothes while they stood near the river. Joe did not know if he was taking care of her after a near-drowning, or being the new pest in the West.

When Joe got close enough to the pair, he spurred his mount to a rush and came up behind them, Mamie struggling to get out of Alec’s grasp, his hands still pulling at her as if trying to disrobe her. The nuzzle of Joe’s rifle, thrust against Alec, made him let go in a hurry, ready to swing around with a pistol in his hand until he now felt the rifle muzzle sink into his gut just above the beltline with deadly promise, there being no tremors in Joe’s hand, no nerves working control, no fear of doing in a friend who had over-stepped the bounds of decency.

Mamie was crying by that time, and Joe nudged deeper, and said in a deeply-controlled voice, “Let go right now, you son of a bitch, or I’ll blow you out of your boots, His words, his voice, had the flavor of bullets in them, and the promise.

“Aw, Joe,” Alec muttered, “I was just fooling around with her. I meant no harm.”

Joe yelled, “Not with my girl do you fool around with, not for a minute, not for a joke, not for fun.” The cowboy steel was in his voice, and Alec retorted, “What makes you think she’s you girl. Hell, I’ve kissed her a dozen times. What do you call that?”

“Like the same thing I’ve done,” said Joe, “but I’d never try to shame her out of her clothes. She means too much to me, so you and her are quits of any and all contact from now on. She’s my girl, and she’s gonna stay my girl. What do you say to that?”

Alec’s face brightened, as he said, “A duel right down the middle of Stretch Hills dusty main road, and I’ve always been a better shot than you, so you got little or no chance at all.”

He looked at Mamie and said, “It’s gonna be all your fault, Mamie, me or nothing, at which she brazenly replied, “Joe’s a gentleman. He’ll find a way out of this, like marrying me first, and then you’d be stuck on the end of the stick, losing both of us, not able to do a thing about it.”

Alec finally stammered, “I want a duel now. Right now, Today, right now, On the main street, the only street in Stretch Hill, 40 paces and then some. I’ll tell the sheriff we got something to settle between old friends. He’ll think we’re joking, won’t do a thing to stop us, waiting to laugh his head off whatever we pull off for kicks, as what he thinks.”

It was like Alec was licking his chops already. No way to lose. Never in a hundred years and he’d have Mamie for the hundred years or however long they’d last.

The sheriff of Stretch Hill kicked in with his okay and he also offered to do the count- off for the walk-off added to 40 paces; he could not envision what the outcome would be, but he heard his own laughter answer his query; friends are friends and never do they meet at the points of guns.

But Joe Redd killed his best pal, Alec Murray, that day of the duel in Stretch Hill and Joe Redd and his wife Mamie had better than 70 years of happy moments and hard memories every anniversary day walking down the main road of Stretch Hill, right past the Stretch Hill Rest Stop, the lone saloon in town, still worth a laugh to newcomers