Western Short Story
Cargo Mulligan was the lone lawman on duty in Pleasantville, Montana because the sheriff was visiting his daughter a hundred miles away, having her first baby and a boy would be named after him. He had to be there for the arrival.
Cargo had been the lone entrant for the deputy’s job, newly created for the above event, and he had been the chosen because he could handle a gun and a horse as good as any man in the town, learning to shoot from his father and do all tasks related to the care of horses, including shoeing one, from the time he was 12-years old. He was bright as a whip and as quick as a lash in all matters, and could be a successful lawman. He was an easy pick and brought a keen curiosity to the job, like being near-fully aware of what was going on in his town, from the inside out, and the outside in, The job responsibilities would come to him; he didn’t think he’d have to chase them down, Pleasantville was so quiet by itself, between a river and a mountain, with all the in-between to look after.
On this particular night, Cargo Mulligan watched, with on-going interest, one table in The Broken Horn Saloon, in the middle of Pleasantville. Five men, four at a time, sat at the table, and an odd-man out taking turns at watching their horses tied at the rail outside the saloon. He’d never done it before, study a group, but his curiosity had mounted in this case, and the feeling bothered him.
When a pair from the table slipped out the back way to relieve themselves in the black pitch of darkness, Cargo decided to follow them. He’d already taken off his spurs and trail gear, and walked into the darkness with a near-absolute silence, the voices of the two me coming to him in the black but clear night, as though he was part of the conversation. His slow, careful movements kept him as quiet as the old church mouse come back for a visit.
One outside voice said, hoarse and deep in delivery, “The boss says there’s a stagecoach coming this way tomorrow with six ladies for the upstairs pick-a-number rooms, where they’ll hang out. He’s got it all figured out to hold up the stagecoach out of town, at The Loop-of-Loops curve the locals talk about and snag all six of them right off the stagecoach, for our own pleasure, and the Hell with the upstairs here.”
Cargo could almost see him point over his shoulder back at the saloon. Then, the speaker continued his story, “He says we have to have extra horses, maybe three of them, ‘cause when we nab them three of us will have company in our saddles and three of them will have to ride on the spare horses, but led by the reigns. That’ll make it a real quick introduction to us and our ways at things and I’m sure you’ll have your own lessons to teach ‘em. Sure do, ‘cause I got mine all in order and ready for quick learning, quick getting done. It’s real tough waiting for Heaven to come around.” He laughed in a sort of self-satisfaction, and followed with a belch into the darkness.
“What if they don’t keep up or fall back, won’t that mess up things?” came from a second voice
“That’d be their tough luck,” came the response, a tough tone to the voice. “They can try to get along without us, but they wouldn’t get far.”
“Boss says we’ll have a time for ourselves up there on the mountain where posses have chased a few bandits and never caught a one. Not a one in that mountain of trees and rocks. Says he has a cabin all staked out for us and nobody living in it right now, and too bad for anyone who might be snagging his sleep there now. Sounds like a dream coming our way. Heaven on the fly.”
“When’s that coach coming? When do we start? Sounds like a real time on hand.”
He laughed at his own internal joke, slapped his partner on the back, and added, “It’s been a long time for me, and I don’t know about you, but he knows it’s coming to us. Those last few jobs were hair-raisers, if you ask me. A couple of them real close, especially the bank job up in high Idaho, that damned fool teller pulling out a gun on us,” and he grunted his disgust at that act. “Got himself killed ‘cause of it. Was his own fault. Deserved what he got, though we caught a lot of crap coming back our way.”
Cargo also tried to picture the speaker’s face and the looks he imagined to be on the speaker’s face, the way he remembers most talk and conversations like they’re special deliveries., even the odd ones, like the gent who said to him one time, “What’s your real name, Cargo? I mean your name you got right at birth?” And the gent’s eyes went wide-open when Cargo said, “My mother named me Cargo on the spot ‘cause I was such a big baby, weighing about ten pounds I guess, or a little bigger. Said I was a helluva load to carry and to let go of, so she called me Cargo, and named me Cargo, and that was that. Cargo I am and always was, right from that minute, which my mother had a habit of telling the story to somebody new come around, and made ‘em laugh like crazy, like some folks can laugh at most anything.”
Come the morning and Cargo, about to earn his keep as a deputy sheriff, placed himself behind a rock of the mountain, after hiding his horse back there too, out of sight to anyone riding in The Loop, and where he had a solid good view of the crazy curve and the route the stagecoach would come travelling on, right down below from where he had his lookout place.
Soon enough, he saw three men riding into The Loop from the distance, and leading three horses, empty of riders but saddled, coming along the trail, about a half mile away. They stationed themselves, after hiding their horses, at one great curve in the trail.
And there, in the far distance, on the crown of a hilly section, Cargo saw the stagecoach coming along the same trail, but about a mile away, no rush to its travel, two drivers up top and, perhaps inside, the six women he heard talk about. They had a lot more coming their way, more than they bargained for, a whole lot more.
When the stagecoach entered the Loop, the bandits leaped out in their way and brought the coach to a standstill, the drivers holding their hands in the air like they didn’t want to get killed on the spot.
Cargo held his spot, lying still and flat against the rock he’d picked out to observe the whole operation. He didn’t put a hand on his rifle, loaded and ready for action, and kept his eye on the scene below him, a silly grin on his face..
The three bandits held their pistols on the drivers and ordered the ladies out of the coach. The first lady out, hands on her hips like the chief of things, yelled, “What the Hell’s going on here?” She brought a sort of defiance with her, almost like she was armed and ready for battle. She repeated, “I said, what the Hell is going on here? Someone better answer me.”
One of the intended kidnappers pointed his pistol right at her face, and up close. She slapped him across the face with a quick move, and he knocked her on the head with the butt of his pistol, at which she collapsed down onto the road bed, inert, silent, her place in the drama out of the way for the time being.
Then the obvious boss of the lot ordered all the women in the coach to step down out of it. “Do it now,” he yelled, “before I get angry and whale the Hell out of each one of you. Do it damned quick before I get damned mad.” He held his pistol in a menacing way, as if a shot could be expected to leap at the coach at his finger-pull on the trigger.
Cargo, smiling to himself, thought it was about time to earn his keep as a deputy; he put a rifle round into the midst of the bandits or kidnappers, whatever they were. And they scattered. The women, out of the coach, ducked under and behind the coach with screams and crying to the high heavens.
One of the bad guys fell down and was motionless on the trail dirt. Another fired his weapons aimlessly and continuously until they were empty of bullets, shots spraying every which way, and uselessly. Cargo, thinking about their antics, thought they were a new-to-each-other gang with no experience in such acts they were following; like innocents on parade.
The other two men ran for their horses and rode off in a hurry, risen dust following behind them.
Cargo led the stagecoach from The Loop into the heart of Pleasantville, a sight to see. The ladies, including the daring one now awake, offered him their services, which Cargo ignored completely, going directly to the barkeep in The Broken Horn Saloon, and said, “Archie, last night, at that table in the corner, four or five guys spent a couple of hours drinking here. You remember any of them?”
“I sure do, Cargo. You interested in them?”
“I sure am, Archie.” He smiled his answer. “You see any of them ever come in here again, let me know quick as you can. I’m counting on you.”