Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
Available Now Site-wide ad space Top right corner, replacing the ad to the right. $25 per month. Click HERE to find out more.
Western Short Story
He was mountain high, as far as he could be in this section of the Teton Range, when he heard the shots like faint pops on the air, saw the stagecoach down far below come to a stop, three horsemen knock the driver and the shotgun rider out of their seats, pummel them and two of the passengers onto the ground, one of them a woman, her wide skirt seen easily. Road dust swirled up from her skirt where she fell.
He heard nothing from the scene. He did not hear the woman scream as she was hit, as she fell, and kicked where she had fallen.
Brody Chalmers could feel the curdle in his stomach, taste the hatred in his mouth.
The incident was down in a tight stretch of the Edgarton Pass, promised to be quick, and looked to him that it would most likely leave injury or worse in its wake. The possible picture sickened him again, stressed his uselessness. It would take him over an hour to get down there and the road agents would be long gone. He was not a good tracker.
But he was good with the rifle, his rifle, the one his grandfather had taught him to use.
Listening, he still heard nothing.
He had one shot to make some amends on the situation down below. To do something “now,” at least send a message to the brigands that they might be found accountable. There came a quick image of his grandfather, “Sure Shot” Chalmers, back in Pennsylvania in a hilly location of the old homestead, aiming the rifle as steady as a rock, his voice echoing the unforgotten words: “Don’t breathe when you aim. Eternity might be at the end of your shot. Breathe before you aim and squeeze the trigger like you had one of Molly’s new pups in your hand. Make it good.”
The word “good” thereafter had carried several meanings for young Chalmers.
Now, in the Tetons, lives in the balance, one of the meanings of the word leaped through his consciousness. It was a calling; a hand placed directly upon him and he could feel the weight of it.
Slowly he pulled the rifle wrapped in a white shirt from its saddle pouch, the shirt protecting the rifle from the least speck of trail dust. “The smallest speck of dirt or dust can ruin a good shot,” the old gent had often told him as they practiced shooting, “on the eyesight or in the corner of your eye.” The words never went away.
Chalmers rolled the white shirt into a ball and placed it on a boulder, then pushed a single long round into the rifle chamber, a round he had poured on his own time, in his own deliberation. Kneeling in place as he looked over that boulder, Chalmers set the rifle sights with care, caught and held his breath with practiced routine, and squeezed off one round.
Within the confines of the rocky geography only about 6 miles from Edgarton, the sound of the shot became an echo that became other echoes, reverberating, climbing up and falling down according to where it hit on cliff sides, huge boulders left over from forever back in history of the region. The echoes fell back upon the robbery scene with a vengeance of sound.
And he finally heard the scream of the woman.
One robber, farthest from the coach, fell clumsily forward in the saddle and remained there as if roped in place or locked in by tight stirrups. The horse, bolting at first on its hind legs, raced across the grass like it was on fire --- the rider, not even holding on, bounced like a bronco breaking was underway.
The other two robbers, spinning about, trying to see where the shot had come from, their mounts in more control than the riders, could not see where Chalmers was, uphill, in a rocky tor, as hidden as a spirit or a ghost.
Three passengers ducked under the stagecoach, one man pulling the fallen woman under the coach with him. His hat, briefly caught in a sudden draft, rolled away from him, a puff of light dust moving with it. The team of horses remained still, the reins perhaps having been tied off by the driver.
All the participants, except the robber caught on his runaway horse, looked up in the confines of the pass, up along the walls sheer on one side, broken up on the other side by niches, crevices, or the dark openings of cave mouths, seeking the source of the shot. On Chalmers side of the pass the character of the mountain teased with the openings, with its imperfections, and would allow search, penetration, and possible revelations of the secrets that all mountains have.
Brody Chalmers was unsure as to why he did what he did next … suddenly, unconsciously, he waved the white shirt over his head while he stayed hidden behind the boulder.
It was an unsaid statement.
That simple motion made an impact on those below him, the good and the bad; Chalmers had not the slightest idea of what that impact was. He knew he could never have missed the shot in this kind of a situation, righting a wrong, using his one good talent, bringing his best talent into play.
But Brody Chalmers, as we will see, shortly became the “Ghost Shooter,” a legend coming along the whole Teton Range. The legend came with energy and belief from sundry areas.
The two robbers, still mounted, but as if dispatched by a higher authority, took instant flight and were downhill and out of sight in mere seconds. Nevertheless, they were locked forever into the incident, as were the passengers and stagecoach driver and his shotgun rider.
Edgarton, as proved by the years, had been the center of tall tales and long stories about mysterious riders and heroes that cropped up as numerous as the pinnacles in the area. Many of the tales were spun out from the two saloons in town, The Broken Rein and The Lynch Pen, one at each end of town, one coming and one going, one owned by the mortician in town, Hall’s Home of Fallen Souls, one owned by the owner of the sole general store in Edgarton, which carried a sign along its whole storefront saying, “Dispenser of All Necessities West of the Big River.”
The owners were brothers, Lyle and Lorne L’Amontaigne, in the Teton Range area for 30 or more years. They had one sister, Louella Mary, taken by Nez Perce Indians for 9 years before being rescued by her brothers. She came away from the village with her son that she had named Windhover the day he was born. From the day of the release the two uncles called him Windy. The youngster, from the first, came full of stories of spirits that lived in high places. Some folks in Edgarton agreed that he came as a shaman of sorts, legends issuing continually from him as he sported his Indian heritage. Many people tolerated him because of his age and innocence, some because of his beautiful mother, and some because of the influence of his uncles.
Some people could not tolerate him from the first minute, “that half-breed kid, that Nez Perce savage.”
When the stagecoach driver and his shotgun rider came into The Broken Rein and hurriedly told about the thwarted robbery, each one said it was halted by a white ghost of a rifleman high on a cliff of the Tetons. “We didn’t see a thing but him wrapped in white,” they said, and each one swearing the other man was telling the truth. “All in white,” the driver said, firm and straight-eyed and no flinch in his face, or on his tongue. “All dressed in white was he. We didn’t see his face or his hat or his rifle, but he was wrapped in white. White,” he affirmed, “as white as snow. As spooky as you can imagine. Spooky white. Ghostly white. And a dead shot. Hit one of them robbers and sent him rushing down the trail before the other two could skedaddle on their own.”
“He’s telling it like it was,” affirmed the shotgun rider, “and them two headed quick north on the trail. So they could be west and north of here, or even here in Edgarton right now. I can’t hardly remember what they even looked like. Except mean as they come, they were, one of ‘em whipping a woman with his gun butt and knocking her to the ground and kicking her when she was down.”
While many old timers made one or another of the saloons their home away from the hearth and added their years of experience to the veracity of tales sprouting from within, their supplements built up every tale loosed in those sanctums. But some tales, many would acclaim if pinned to the wall, get boosted on their own, a piece of reality coming along every once in a while to kick a tale straight into going beyond legend, to the next step up in actuality.
“I was there,” had become the word.
Windy was whittling on a stick just outside the saloon when he first heard about the shooting by a ghost of some sort in the nearby Edgarton Pass. He listened to every word, the description of a ghost-like shooter, the white but opaque gown that he was dressed in, the marksmanship exhibited in a perfect single shot to which each witness had testified. Excitedly he exclaimed to anyone who would listen that “the ghost shooter of the Tetons has risen from the dead. He has come back. The God of the Mountain, Mattawatan himself, has sent him back to us.”
He spoke lucidly, decisively, as if he was already mature, no mere possessor of special knowledge, but one in tune with the local tribes and the spirits haunting the mountains, the high peaks, the divisive passes and the valleys found all along the Tetons. His Indian side showed evident and a few older folks in the town stopped to listen, to nod, to believe.
One old trapper, crippled in his years, beaten, tossed for dead, almost eaten to the bone in one arm, sitting as usual in whatever sun he could grasp onto on the boardwalk every day left to him, said, as if in unison with Windhover, “That boy comes from up there, with no doubt in my mind.” He pointed off to the high peaks of the Tetons. “You better believe him. He ain’t no tad to laugh at. I been there and heard them, the Old Ones, speak about the ghost of the mountains, the sacred shooter, the God of Law. Hell, them red one’s been here a lot longer than we’s been. The boy has the tongue of them ancients. Hell again, he’s probably older than me in his mind, and that don’t have to get too far ahead of me in any hurry.”
When newcomer Brody Chalmers rode into Edgarton on his paint horse, white and brown like many horses ranchers had selected for their own mounts, he was unnoticed for the most part; a drover on the loose looking for food, fun or frolic, ready to spend money if he had it. He was a handsome young man, blond haired, green-eyed, strong of chin, complexion tossed by weather, wide in the shoulders exhibiting a sense of strength, but he wore a continually quizzical look on his face, the kind a man wears who hasn’t found what he’s been looking for every time in the saddle.
One person did notice Chalmers because of the quizzical look. It was the boy Windy, at his habitual spot on the boardwalk, the knife in his hand and a worked stick he was whittling, the delicate small pieces falling feather-like to the ground.
In his Indian way, taught by the elders, Windy knew how far the paint horse had been ridden and where it had been ridden. The sweaty coat gave him a good idea that the horse had come from beyond the big pass, and the splatter of mud on upper legs told him the horse had come across the river, and far from the fording at Willow Bend down the river, perhaps half a day’s ride. The rider’s pants were dry, too, he had noticed, saying the stranger had crossed the river and ridden long enough to dry his pants because any place this side of the Willow Bend fording a rider got wet up to his thighs.
Chalmers smiled at the boy who worked continually with a knife on a piece of wood, his hands steady, his fingers dexterous, and who looked at him curiously. Each of them was keenly aware of the other one: Chalmers with a cherished memory of childhood coming upon him, and the boy with an Indian’s curiosity about a cowboy who had come to town from a long way off. He wondered why he had chosen Edgarton, if he had chosen the place freely.
In the saloon, Chalmers was immediately questioned by Sheriff Ed Tracy, a wizened veteran who had been on the job for several years here after serving in other towns. His hair had begun its run on silver, the slight traces like the early finds on a mine of promise. He flexed his right hand enough times to cause note in Chalmers’ mind, for he also saw the arthritic touch had started on his left hand; he’d not be long on the job. Perhaps this crime might do the trick for him.
Tracy, after looking Chalmers over, sensing a positive reaction in the young stranger, said in his business voice, “Did you come through the pass today, son? I’d guess you did. Tell me when and what you saw if you saw anything. There was an incident in there earlier and we’re trying to get anybody who can give us a lead on it. You see anything out of the ordinary in there? When did you get through the pass?”
“I didn’t see anything done wrong, Sheriff, or out of the ordinary, and I came through not too long ago. Maybe an hour or so.” Chalmers said it without emotion, but added, “Anybody else come through there today beside me?” His reply, with a question, was careful and artful, shifting attention away from him; he had shot a man and no further word about him had surfaced in the saloon interrogations.
The sheriff turned to look at the end of the bar where two gents were sipping on their drinks. “Just them two fellows at the far end of the bar who came through earlier today, according to them, and then spent some time cleaning up for the evening, which we can imagine some fellows do and some don’t.”
The sheriff inserted a pause and then added a personal observation, “They didn’t see anything neither,”
which carried a sarcastic qualification, “according to them.”
Chalmers nodded and looked closely at the two, each one by that time holding his glass close to his mouth. He discerned their instant reserve, but couldn’t tell if they were the robbers he had seen in the pass. Quick suspicions came to him, though, because of the way they responded to his close observations and to the manner of their replies to queries from the sheriff. A sudden thought came to him … if he saw their horses at a distance similar to when he’d seen them at the pass, he’d recognize them, note their color and their lines again, maybe find similarities or positive notes. He’d pay attention to that thought another time.
But other questions loomed, though they were unsaid at that moment by Sheriff Tracy or Chalmers, for Windy was looking in at the saloon scene through the open door, hearing all that had been said. And he had noticed the horses of the two men when they came in earlier. They were dusty and not well cleaned up at arrival, as said. They had been on a quick run, he was sure, when they came to town, and he was also sure the men had not cleaned themselves either. He suspected that they had hidden out of town for a while to throw any timing questions into a mixing bowl if the sheriff fathomed any errors in their story. He had seen men break under accusations, before witnesses pointed fingers at them. He knew what threat an accusation was; had seen it at work.
Later in the day the two men went off to the hotel to take a room, Windy wandered back to his mother’s place at the edge of town, Sheriff Tracy went to his office, and Brody Chalmers found a room at a small rooming house. It was beside the cabin that the L’Amontaigne brothers had provided for their sister, Louella Mary, Windy’s mother. One of the other roomers turned out to be the woman who was pummeled at the attempted stagecoach hold-up in the pass.
When the two of them were introduced, Chalmers asked her if she remembered anything about the robbers.
“I was petrified,” she said, “and can hardly bring anything back, but one thing I do remember is the man who kicked me and hit me with his weapon had boots with square heels and had a repair done on one boot, a good sized one like he might have kicked a sharp object and cut the boot, right along the big toe line on his right boot. A piece of leather was added clumsily, like it was done out there on the prairie and not by a boot man or a cobbler.”
In the evening of the first night, Chalmers sat with Windy on the front steps of the rooming house, Windy saying straight out, “I don’t believe those two strangers the sheriff talked to at the saloon. They lied about cleaning their horses. They did not take care of their horses like any rider should. And I saw them down at the telegrapher place, poking around when the bank man left there. If they try to rob a stagecoach again, the Ghost Shooter will stop them again. The God of the Mountain has given him to us. You will see.”
Chalmers was entranced with the youngster, his sense of good will, admiration for his mother, acute awareness of his own station in life, and, strangest of all, a soothsayer at initiation. All of it, seemingly a minor revelation, forced Chalmers to ask Windy about his Indian father. “Who is your father? What is his name? Do you miss him?”
The answers were further surprises from the acute youngster not yet 10 years old.
“My father’s name was Seven Feathers, a great chief of the Nez Perce, though he was killed by an arrow shot at a big bear by a Blackfoot. Now that bear is a Great Bear because he carries the spirit of Seven Feathers with him forever. My father’s spirit did not come to me, but went with the Great Bear who still roams the mountains. I saw him once and he ran away from me. He does not want to share my father with me. I cannot blame the Great Bear for that. I would run from him because of that.”
The boy did not stop at that point, but added, “Seven Feathers said two times is proof of something. The two men know that. I think they will try for the second time in the same place, to prove something. Seven Feathers knew all about proving things, how it finds a place in a man’s mind and stays there until it is proved. But the Ghost Shooter of the Mountain will prove them wrong.” He nodded his head several times, the way affirmation is announced by some people.
Chalmers, excited and carrying a wealth of wisdom from the short encounter, went directly to the sheriff’s office and told him what he had found out, from the woman victim and from Windy … all except the last part of Windy’s message, about the Ghost Shooter of the Mountain.
“Those two strangers went out of town earlier, Brody. I saw them leave. I know the next stage is going to deliver a good some of money to the bank, so maybe another attempt will be made. But I don’t believe those who made the first try would do it in the same place a second time. I know there’ll be some help riding in the stage this trip. And I can’t remember if there was any boot repair done on one of their boots. But I’ll look if they show up again. Hell, they may have cleared out of here for good. Can’t blame them for running, even if we don’t really know what happened to their pard on the runaway horse.”
On one hand was the stance of a veteran sheriff of the west. On the other hand was a chief of the Nez Perce, Seven Feathers, father of Windhover, boy sage who, in other circumstances, would one day become a Nez Perce chief or a wise man of the first order.
Well before dawn came calling, Body Chalmers was on his way out of town. He got to Edgarton Pass, hid his horse behind a clump of fallen rocks and climbed to a different spot than he’d had on his earlier visit. But he was still on the rugged side of the pass, which offered more places to hide out and to shoot from. He stayed close to a slim ledge, inching his way to a place to watch from. He could hear the words that Windy had said on the porch; “the Ghost Shooter will stop them again. The God of the Mountain has given him to us. You will see.” The words came as possible echoes off the face of the mountain.
For a moment, Brody Chalmers believed he was in touch with Seven Feathers; he knew he would find favor with a man who had raised such a son regardless of the circumstances involved. Lessons of his own came back to him; “Divide and conquer,” sounded its echo. It was followed by, “Fight to the last breath of your being.” History was all around him: he did not think about any legend, but it was afoot again.
All was quiet down below in the pass, in the area that he could see, a narrow road barely wide as four or five oxen in tandem, but no precipitous edges, no steep falls waiting on the unlucky or the pushed, no obstruction to coach travel that he could see. He looked again, across the whole of his vision range, and saw nothing.
Again, coming off some high surface in the pass, he heard Windy’s promise, “The Ghost Shooter will stop them again. The God of the Mountain has given him to us. You will see.”
The words faded into another sound, and the canyon walls carried the advance notice of the stagecoach coming along the narrow trail, but not yet visible. Still, he had not seen any suspicious movement down below.
The coach was coming nearer and it sounded as though it was at a fast pace, a measure the coach company had taken, he presumed, to avoid another robbery attempt. “Go fast. Don’t slow down for anything,” could have been the order issued. “Don’t give in. Fight them off if they come at you again.”
All the sounds came into the funnel of the pass, ringing, roaring, making way for the coach.
That other sound he heard was different. It was a rumble of noise. A thunder of noise. It was not coming from down on the narrow stricture of Edgarton Pass … but from above him, from a higher level of the rough wall of the pass.
And it was getting louder. Shaking came along with the loudness. Solid shaking, mountain shaking. What god was talking now? he wondered.
He knew he was in the way before he heard the voice above him yell out, in an almost hysterical voice, “We got ‘em now, Bart. We got ‘em now. This’ll slow ‘em to a stop. Yippee, we got ‘em now!””
Chalmers turned to throw himself into any available niche, the earth-shaking rumbling closer. A rock the size of his head took his long-time favorite rifle right out of his hands. It clattered against other rock surfaces, sent a reflection from its barrel, and rolled end over end out of sight … down into the pass. Chalmers found himself ducking desperately into a narrow depression, but there was ledge cover over his head. He squeezed himself as tight as he could into the slim fissure, felt the wind from falling rocks and debris as though it was traveling through a tunnel with a roar.
Edgarton Pass was alive with noise: a man above him was yelling, the roar of falling rocks engulfed him, rocks that would obstruct the passage of the coach, the stagecoach and its team at that moment turning into the straightaway and becoming an instant part of the pass’s atmosphere.
And he was pinned into the saving niche with a protective overhead. Rocks somehow piled up on the ledge and edged in on him, the weights heavy, formidable. The pile grew. He was almost buried in the same place where he was being saved. A phrase came from nowhere into his mind. It did not say, “Dust unto dust.” It said, “Dust unto rock.” He could feel heat from a few of the piled-up rocks that must have lain in the sun to become the obstruction down below and the wall pinning him into the fissure; the recess, the possible resting place of Brody Chalmers.
He dared not yell out. The one who had caused the fall of rocks was someplace above him, and certainly armed. Silence was a grace for him; no scream for help would find any mercy from these robbers who had caught the stagecoach in the pass and brought it to a standstill.
A shot sounded out in the high pass, and a voice followed, loud, urgent, menacing: “The next round goes into one of the horses, the next one for one of the drivers, and then we’ll fill the coach with enough lead to kill half the passengers, them that’s been hired by the stage company to ride shotgun.”
Every word yelled out seemed to speak of special preparations made by these thieves. It all came off as bragging at the crucial moment. Bandits, indeed, of the first order. “Don’t mess with us,” it said.
A blast from a rifle sounded and the lead slug hit the top of the coach. The menacing voice said, “I want one of my pals to put another bullets right where I shot, only it’ll come from someplace else. Do it now, pal of mine.”
The bullet tore into the structure in the exact same spot; the evil eyes were good eyes.
“We can kill all of you. One at a time or in a bunch. Is it worth any of it to you gents, them up on top and them in the coach, to save one box for the company? If it isn’t, here’s what you can do … come down one by one from the reins and then from inside. Go to the back of the coach and put all your weapons, rifles and side arms, on the ground and all in a row. Then get that box with the money and put it back there too. When you got that all done, start pushing them rocks out of the way so you can run off with the coach and get out of here. Anything else and we start shooting, either at you first or at the horses. Any way it happens, what’s left has a long walk to town.”
For kicks, it seemed, the malevolent voice said, “See how this fits you gents.” The voice then said, “Ready, Eddie, the back right corner top of the coach. Shoot!”
A bare second apart, two slugs hit within inches of each other on the back right corner top of the coach.
Then the voice said, “Who says the Ghost Shooter is still a hero? Hell, man, he could be on our side.”
Another round hit within inches of the previous two shots.
Slowly, resigned to the situations, both the driver and the shotgun rider climbed down from the coach and walked to the rear and placed two rifles and their side arms on the ground, and in a row. Six men climbed one by one down from the interior of the coach and did the same thing; each one of them had a rifle in hand, and all weapons placed down in the lengthening row of weapons, like a miniature armory.
“Now, gents, two of you go get the money box up there and put it back there too.”
Two men did as directed. The black box sat on the floor of Edgarton Pass as though it was a box of ammunition that belonged with all the weapons.
“Good job, boys,” the mysterious voice said, now move the rocks before we kill a few of them horses.”
Chalmers, still hidden, still silent, feared any movement would give him away. He’d have to bide his time, get free of this prison or this burial vault as quickly as he could. He hoped his horse was still hidden, also hoping that the two robbers who were there had not seen him when they were making their preparations for the robbery.
In a matter of 10 minutes, rocks had been pushed aside, and the voice from above yelled out, “’Nother good job, boys. Now you can load up and go get a drink and tell ‘nother story at the saloon of how you met up with the Ghost Shooter in Edgarton Pass. And how he stopped a robbery.” The laughter that followed bounced off the walls of the pass.
Chalmers thought the Devil would have the same kind of laugh.
He heard the coach driver yell, “Giddap,” and the coach start to move.
The voice yelled again, “Hey, boys, don’t forget to tell the sheriff what we uns look like, now won’tcha.” The devil laugh came again.
The coach had been gone in another 10 minutes and Chalmers heard horses coming along the pass. A voice he recognized said, “Hide all them weapons back in there. Hell, they’ll get more weapons in town anyway. They’ll just hold us up. Use one of them to shoot the lock off that box.”
The gunshot sounded clunky and metallic and the other voice yelled out, “Oh, Lordy, look at that. We hit pay dirt, a bundle of it.” His following laughter sounded happy and angelically innocent.
pack it up in the saddle bags with all that loot while you hide them
weapons in behind that rock.”
Chalmers heard weapons hitting a rocky surface where they were thrown. When he heard a single gunshot he thought it was an accidental firing of one of the weapons tossed in among the rocks, but the malevolent voice said, more sinister than ever, “Sorry about that, Charlie, but there ain’t enough for both of us.”
When he heard one horse ride off, the hoof beats coming with all kinds of images off the cliff wall, Chalmers could imagine the lone robber riding off, his partner dead on the ground, a hole in his back, and a pile of weapons just about at his feet, and the black cash box sitting on the ground, empty.
He was anxious to try to get out from behind the mass of fallen rocks. He prayed to his father and grandfather and Seven Feathers and Windhover that he could get free of his impromptu prison, and that his horse was where he left it. And he prayed to the God of the Mountain, believing all the gods, despite the different names, were one and the same god.
After another 10 minutes he pushed a rock at the top of the pile where he could see an outline of daylight around it. The rock fell away and the smash of it down below came up to him. He waited for any reaction, and nothing came. He managed to push another stone, round and still warm to the touch, and that stone rolled easier than the previous one and fell with a gathering sound as it bounced on its way onto the floor of the pass.
Light poured in on him, and fresh air in a slight breeze. He gulped at it, feeling the sense of freedom, of rescue, and he was glorious and thankful at the same time.
When he had cleared enough space to pass through, hesitation settled on him. All he’d need now, after what he’d been through, would be for the rest of the pile to suddenly fall away to the floor of the pass and carry him with it … to an ignominious end of the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons.
More rocks and boulders moved when he nudged them, and as each one moved to provide added space for escape, he began to push rather than nudge them loose. Finally, he was sure he’d get out without further problems … other than his climb down, his search for his horse and his rifle, if it was not smashed beyond use. Then he’d find the tracks of the murdering robber. He said another prayer when his prayers were answered, finding his horse where he had left it, his rifle in decent shape between two rocks, and the second robber as dead as he’d ever be … a hole blasted in his back, the spine obviously shattered, his pains and earthly hungers done and gone forever.
Many of the fallen rocks, which this very man had sent down upon him and the pass, now became his burial stones, a pile of them going atop him from Chalmers’ hands to keep the carrion hunters at bay. Chalmers said a few words for the man, mounted his horse, and trailed off after the surviving robber.
At first the trail was difficult, but Chalmers could imagine the robber eventually relaxing his care and looking ahead to the evening and spending some of the stolen money stuffed in his saddlebag. With some luck and a word from a lone drummer about a lone rider he had seen an hour earlier (“he was a damned unsocial critter if I do say so”), he followed him after he left Edgarton Pass. He’d moved northerly at first, and then on a long ride west that ate up the daylight to a small town with a large sign in crude red letters announcing its name. He had never seen the word “Gobbit” before, had heard it said only once, down along the Patrick Falls River that seemed ever to be drying up, and figured such an out of the way place was ideal for the robber to hide out.
Chalmers was cautious in his trail work, dismounting at each rise in the trail or each bend to move ahead slowly on foot and unseen, peering over the rise and scanning the way beyond him. Chalmers was sure the robber would temper some of his caution because he’d figure there were no witnesses to identify him as a robber and as a killer.
The character of the man he was trailing gave Chalmers added insight about him. Often he thought the killer/robber had not shed one tear over his dead comrade and pard he had bushwhacked at close quarters and had not thought again, not one time, of the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons.
That would be his undoing.
Chalmers announced nothing to anybody when he entered Gobbit well after night took over the town. He sat in the darkness and saw his prey go into the saloon, exit soon thereafter, put his horse at the livery, and go to a small hotel right next door to the saloon, his saddle bag over his shoulder. A flickering light soon came on in the first window from the left on the second floor, and the shadow of the man passed across the window at the end of the outside balcony. The long day might have tired him past his hungers and the temptation to spend some of the loot might have found caution. What Chalmers saw told him the killer was in for the night, would sleep solidly with the saddlebag under his pillow or under the bed.
He knew where his prey was and where he’d stay until he could shake him loose. All he had to do was to get him out of there without anybody knowing. That meant the sheriff of Gobbit, whoever he was, and anybody else with an interest in a strange man’s affairs.
He didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. He knew where the killer’s horse was; he’d need the horse. His own mount he set in the alley at the end of the porch. It was long after midnight, no moon, just stars in the sky, now and then a shooting star coming and going as quick as thought, an owl asking the endless question, and as far as he could hear the cry of a coyote drifted in on air thin as a page in a book.
Taking his rope with him but leaving hat behind, Chalmers found it easy to climb to the balcony, go silently to the window open to the night air. He heard the owl from some dim retreat asking again who was there, out and about in the night. The thin curtain at the window touched at his hand carrying a pistol. The barrel pushed the curtain aside with the merest whisper. One leg passed over the windowsill and his boot touched down on the floor. He brought the rope in with him in one hand, his pistol in the other, and heard the killer roll over in his sleep, and begin to snore.
Moving one step toward the bed, his boot touching down as lightly as he could make it, only a gentle sound came off the floor boards. He halted in place, counted several more solid snores and advanced one more step, another step. The fourth step brought him beside the sleeper, the snorer, the killer and bushwhacker of a friend and compadre. The distaste was still in Chalmers’s mouth, every sour curd of it, and it brought the pistol over his head and brought it down on the killer’s head. An arm of the man slipped off his side where it had lain and fell loosely to his side.
Quickly, quietly he bound the man with his rope, put the man’s hat on his own head, found his boots and the saddlebag at the side of the bed. The floor creaked under the weight of two men as he lugged his captive to the window, and passed him onto the balcony floor. He went back and retrieved the boots, the saddlebag, and the man’s shirt; he still had his pants on, had fallen to sleep that way.
There was little noise as he lowered his captive over the rail on the balcony and then lowered himself and the boots and saddlebag and shirt over the rail and dropped softly to the ground.
Only the owl was awake with his questions, and the coyote so far away was nostalgic with his howling. Nothing else moved; not even his horse as he draped the captive over the saddle, slipped down the alley to the outside of the livery a few buildings away. He placed the saddle on the man’s horse, tossed him, still unconscious, over his saddle, mounted his own horse and quietly slipped out of Gobbit, the sign unreadable in the darkness as the pair passed by it on the way back to Edgarton, a day’s ride away, in the night.
Out of town not more than a mile, Chalmers untied his captive, put his shirt and boots on him, tied the man’s bandana over his eyes, and then placed his hat on his head, the tie string under his chin. It was simple enough to sit him in the saddle and bind him in place, ankles trussed with rope under the horse, hands tied to the pommel, the saddlebag in its regular place; robber, killer, carrying enough proof of his crimes to convict him.
When the captive woke up and started asking questions, cursing to high heavens at the same time, Chalmers never answered one question, staying silent during the commotion.
Elusive on the way back to Edgarton, Chalmers avoided all contacts with people on the trail. Outside of town, still a few miles away, he passed the daylight hours in a wooded area, waiting for nightfall, and clear passage into town and to his first destination there; it was not the sheriff’s office at the jail.
He had other plans for his captive, and for the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons.
In the black of night, from a point he had determined earlier, he tied off the two horses, approached a small cabin and issued a soft night-like bird whistle, waited, did it again, and a third time.
He heard a door close easily, and heard light steps in the darkness.
In a few moments of near silence, Windhover was at his side, saying in a voice light as far star, “I knew you would return when they said you had gone away.”
Chalmers told Windhover what he wanted him to do. “In daylight, when the whole town can see you, lead this killer and his horse right to the sheriff’s office. Tell him this is the man who held up the stage, beat the woman passenger, stole the money and killed his own partner who is buried under rocks at the site of the robbery in the pass. Tell the sheriff to get the woman passenger and show her this man’s boots and show the banker the money in the saddle bags. It belongs to him.”
He paused and asked Windhover to repeat it all. The boy did so and said, “And then what else?”
“Then,” said Chalmers, “you can tell the sheriff and everybody that the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons delivered this criminal to you.”
Windhover smiled his belief. “You will live forever,” he said. “I will say it long and loud to anyone who will listen. Some men will fear to do bad things because the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons will be looking at them, setting his rifle.”
And it all happened just that way, as the boy Windhover touted the Ghost Shooter of the Tetons who carried on in his own way for many years, and the young Indian grew to be a wise old man.