Western Short Story
With his pistols, he was quicker than all Hell broke loose, London Bob, the Gunner, and he was a local guru of stormy portions, able to determine the weather almost to the minute, which way it would come, which way it would go, when it would turn. As he ducked into a cave he was fully aware of between Hilton Town and Newmark, a ready-made escape from the foulest weather, where he had weathered out earlier storms, he caught the dimmest sight of a nearby rider, and the rider’s actions told London Bob he was looking at a woman suddenly in distress.
London Bob raced to her side, grasped her reigns in one hand, and yelled loudly, “Come with me. There’s a cave up there I’ve been in before in such weather. You’ll be fine there.”
Before she could say who or what or where, he had her under cover and her horse staked alongside his, against the side of the mountain. Months earlier, on his job with the Portland spread, he had placed some blankets for such an emergency now in his lap.
“My name is London Bob. At least, it’s what people hereabouts call me. Plain London Bob, and I made that long journey years ago. Get most comfortable anyway you can with a couple of these blankets I stacked up in here months ago, while I check the horses. We don’t want them to get skittish, or you, for that matter.”
The stranger lady said, “Thanks for the rescue. I didn’t know this storm was coming, or this cave was here. Or you were here. My name is Rosa Due, named by my father as first choice and my mother about to depart each of us.”
London Bob could not see much of her face in the light of the small fire in the cave, just out of the storm, which continued getting stronger than ever. Flicks of firelight, now and then a blast of lightning across the sky, told him she had blue eyes the likes of which he had never seen. He assumed, when all this storm was run off on its own, those eyes would continue to say her name in the back of his mind, “Rosa Due.”
He believed there was a magnetic sense to all of this; the storm, the stranger girl, the cave, his pile of safety blankets that nobody on the spread had any knowledge of. He also believed he was fated to have done this, directed by an insight he coveted on his own, that he shared with no other riders on the spread, the Bar/Bell/Bar, a western stick-out if there ever was one.
He helped her take off her boots, then turned away from her, to let her do what she would. He heard sounds, imagined sights, never turned around once until she said, “You can look now, if you have the inclination.”
He turned lowly, saw her under two blankets, the firelight in her blue eyes, bound to be shut in minutes by the new comfort.
In the morning she said, “I’ll get dressed while you check the horses.”
He did and she did.
In the brilliant sun of a new day, she took his breath away. Her blue eyes had escaped some miracle of creation, some out-of-world settlement, and now glowed for him.
When he said, “Where did you come from?” she replied, “Why are you here?”
“To serve you,” he said simply, not at all embarrassed by his response.
Rosa Due said, “It was meant to be. My father, though long-estranged, is in jail for murder and is bound to be hanged later in the week for something he didn’t do. I need help.”
Indeed, she was the most beautiful woman he ever saw; blonde tresses, sparkling eyes, soft mouth in spite of the hard words, sweet lips that might cry instead of the lovely eyes.
“How do you know that” How long since you’ve seen him?”
“He never shot so much as a rabbit or a deer, or killed a cow, never mind another man. He used to say everything has its own rights, and being is part of them. He swore by that dictate even when I was a mere child; everything has its own rights.”
He could not picture her being a child; beauty like hers had be eternal, from the very beginning. “You can count on me, working in his favor or breaking him out of jail if I have to.” His voice could shake the sleeping into brightness.
“That’s so dangerous. Is it worth getting shot at? I wouldn’t want either one of you hurt.”
He was now in the Golden Circle, he figured, on the inside with Blue Eyes. It near smothered him. “Where’s he at?” he said.
“In the sheriff’s jail at Newmark, crowds gathering continually and screaming for his neck on a rope.”
He was saddling the horses, “We’re on our way,” he said in a brisk voice, as though he was a military man giving directions to a whole regiment of horsemen.
They pulled up in front of the Newmark sheriff’s office and jail, and London Bob said to the sheriff, “I am London Bob and this woman is Rosa Due, daughter of one of your prisoners, Howard Due, bound to hang for a crime he didn’t do.”
“Well. Son,” replied the sheriff, “you got a lot of witnesses you got to make liar’s of, if you know what I mean.” His head shook back and forth in the signal of perennial doubt.
“Give me the list of them, Sheriff, an I’ll be on my own, all level and square until I find a liar.”
“My pleasure, son. It’s been a sticky case all the way around. Have at it.” He shoved the witness list across his desk. London Bob turned to Rosa Due and said, “You sit and comfort your Pa, and I’ll go to work, and there’s more rain coming tonight. God says he knows we need it.” He looked up as if he was seeing right through the ceiling of the office.
Thunder and lightning were active in the distance, and threatening.
(Follows a conversation between London Bob and Wit Dawkins; LB and WD.)}
LB: He cornered the first witness in the Calf Run Saloon. “You be Wit Dawkins?”
WD: “That I am, but I don’t know you. Have we ever met?”
LB: “Not until now, and I’m here checking the witnesses to Howard Due’s murdering a man, for which he’s going to be hung soon. You’re on the witness list. I want to talk to you about it.”
WD: “It’s easy as pie, Mister. My pal of 40 years, Dour Janis, said he and me were right across the road and saw him do it, and he’s never told me a lie in all these years. Not a single lie. He’s pure as the new snow when it comes. He told me to tell it like it is, I swear that’s what I did.” There was not a single blink in his eyes.
LB: “You gents been in the saloon a few hours at that time?”
WD: “How’d you know? We just came out the doors. Saw Howie Due across the road, standing near the general store, his parcel on the ground and a man dead in the road. Had a gun in his hand. That was enough for us, Dour and me. Yes, siree, enough!”
LB: “Who was the dead man, the one down on the road?”
WD: “Hell, we didn’t know that ‘til later. But we saw it all.”
LB: “Or did Dour swear to it and you followed suit, like a puppy dog?”
WD: “Let me tell you, Mister, Dour, like I said, never told me a lie in his whole life.”
LB: “I’m checking that out, and the connection between Dour and the dead man.”
WD: “Hell, I can tell you that. He’s Dour’s neighbor. Knew him like forever. Name’s Billie Caulder. Nice enough guy, once you got to know him.”
LB: “What’s that mean? He strange in some way?”
“Only what Dour says about his bad habits, but hardly enough to
LB: “Oh, did Dour say that?”
WD: “Not in so many words, but yuh, he did.”
LB: “Anything come to mind?”
WD: “If ever anybody ever stuck out like a sore thumb, it was him, Billie Caulder.
(The conversation ended there, but enough had been said to ask more questions, or perhaps not at all.)
The very next day, London Bob was at work early, prying things loose from the day before. It proved useful. He got Dour Janis at the bar in the saloon, bought him a few drinks, started to pump him dry in his own way.
“They tell me hereabouts, friend Dour, that you are useless with those guns on your belt, the pair of them, that you can’t hit the barn door from 30 feet away, or a milk bucket from 10 feet, and you’re more likely to shoot off one of your toes the way you handle a gun.”
The last comment broke Dour loose from a kind of reverie, and he drew his gun, the on his left side, and shot out two lamps in a corner of the saloon without a miss.
London Bob, feeling the burst of energy from Dour, said, “It would take a shooter like that to take down Billie Caulder.”
There was no silence, no retreat to Dour’s spirit, not a pause in response, “It sure did.”
Everybody in the bar, clued in from the first words between the two men, realized they had just heard a confession.