Western Short Story
“That young lady,” said the mayor, Paul Bustoon, of the small western town of Parson’s Hole, Colorado, “is a winner hardly before she begins her life. She’s a pure 18-year-old beauty, meaning she’s looking for a husband of the upstanding kind, most likely ready for him, whoever it might turn out to be, and never been once-bedded herself for sure, She’s holding onto the property her father left her when he left her, back-shot by a murderous scoundrel who ought to be dragged through town on a rope before the rope is used to hang him.”
The venom of his words squeezed itself into the taste in every glass, and taken down wholly, word for word.
They all knew that the killer was the last man alive to see Duke Knightly alive, once an emissary from the queen, Victoria herself, in her great worldly expansion outward from the crown back in England, her vision as global as one could imagine.
Bustoon’s audience, in the High Caliber Saloon, was an ordinary lot of riders, range men, town servants, and sorted semi-established businessmen, all of them, to the man, waiting for news, scandal, stories and lies galore, entertainment for a long afternoon with the drink.
Bustoon, with a vision of his own, was born to deliver such goods, and he was so bound this day on top of all recent days in the normally sleepy town under his wing and wind. His first words would be a delivery on their own, if he so chose it to be.
Which he did; “Gents,” he said in that dramatic and theatrical voice of his, rafter-reaching it was as one old listener had once delivered on his account, “this day upon us is bound to carry revelations aplenty, knowledge of the keenest kind and coming straight to the heart of this here town and this here establishment set along the roadway and trail of life.”
It was almost as if he had wet his own appetite for words, for the delivery, regardless of what he had to say that might matter before the day was over. Recent history said it went that way, and the saloon, even if it was the only one in town, was usually full to the brim and then some.
He paused his delivery, letting it sink in to those who might do their own thinking on the matter, even when he heard one astute old-timer, in one far corner of the saloon, say, “He ain’t really about to stop, jest wetting appetites for the coming charge of the brigade, if any of you young folk ain’t seen any part of it yet. Has a way about him, for sure, and by the bundle.
“By my count,’ Bustoon said, “the killer of Duke Knightly is sitting right here in the midst of us all-too common cow folks bent on a few licks of enjoyment. If his daughter, Duke’s daughter, MaryBeth by name, dared to come into this house of drink and stare into the eyes of every man she’d see in a blink of the eyelids of the guilty party, the bent eyes, the sour eyes, the eyes of the killer. Why, we could hang him right here in this room.”
He pointed to a beam directly over his head and added, “That one’s strong enough to hold the biggest man in this here room,” at which he pointed to an obvious 300-pounder and clarified his pointing, “I ain’t saying it’s you, Humpty, but that there beam would do the trick even with you on the end of the damnedest rope itself.”
“Hell,” retorted Humpty, “if I was a regular man, I wouldn’t stand up for none of this.”
“Humpty,” allowed Bustoon, “I ain’t seen you stand up once since you come in here this morning, all out of breath afore you sat down, never mind saying anything about it.”
The laughter touched the topic with too much reality, so Bustoon figured he’d best correct that turnabout, by saying, “If it was you, Humpty, why you’d be dead now and half a dozen cowhands all out of breath making the delivery to the undertaker waiting down the street with his hammer and nails.”
From some far corner of the saloon, a raggy voice offered a suggestion of sorts, “The least you could do would be inviting her here. I ain’t seen a woman in here in a year or more. That’d be good business on your part, Pauly, damned good business if you could get it done. She ain’t ever been in here even when Duke was around.”
He sat down as if he was spent.
Bustoon exclaimed, “I’ll damned well do it, you wait and see.’
it done, Pauly, we ain’t got all day even if we got nothing to do
but get drunk and make you richer.”
“By god, I’ll do it now.”
An hour later, after a bit of coercing MaryBeth, she agreed to enter the saloon too ssee if she could find her father’s killer.
“I’m going to think for a short while. Mister Bustoon, and then I’ll be over. Tell the boys to keep their places and don’t move away from the saloon. They have some surprises coming their way.”
Paul Bustoon had no idea of what she was thinking about. Or what she could introduce to a saloon crowd other than her pure beauty of a young woman at full bloom. It was well-known that Duke knightly referred to her as the Rose of Parson’s Hole.
In truth, the luscious young woman harbored a keen mind that could re-blossom at her quick command,
When she entered the High Caliber Saloon, the room, nearly wide as a knob of land, went eerily quiet. None of the customers had seen a lovely lady in that spacious room, and a young one to boot, as she jumped up on the counter, dallying her pink legs on the way up to the bar top.
“I know I have your attention, gents, and I want you all to remember where I live; on the east end of town and my cousin Harold lives on the west end of town. It might not seem important to you, but to us, it is very significant.”
She paused to let those facts sink into their minds, en masse, or by the two’s and three’s, which she would bet on with her last cent.
The room stayed silent.
When she had given few of them some likely-hood of what she was up to, she offered an explanation; “Neither one of us has seen a rider come into town or left town since before my father was shot in the back by some rat of a man. It tells me that the killer is now in this room with all of us as the whole town is gathered here as usual, and I am going to look into every face, every pair of eyes, and ask each one of you in those few minutes a few questions. I assume all of you, or most all of you, do understand the implications, the results, I might uncover.”
She drew her legs tightly together and jumped off the bar, yelling out, “Who’s first?”
A tall, thin man wearing a roof-wide sombrero that exaggerated his narrow face and sparse shoulders, stood and started for the door.
“Where you going, Slim?” said the barkeep.
Slim said, “I got cows to tend.”