Western Short Story
(“I find money some way or other goes very fast. But I think I can reflect it has been spent with satisfaction and to my own honour.” John Hancock, not said by the cowboy herein, but by his namesake some 100 years later, and probably a thousand miles further west.)
Jackie Hancock, on this day, rode into a small town called Verbal, in the middle of Colorado, his gear, head to foot, showing he had been on the beef trail for hard weeks atop weeks. Some old timers could measure the weeks by Jackie’s looks, clothes and all, and the gray tone of his black boots, and his bee-line to tie his horse onto the rail in front of the Lone Horn Saloon, and duck inside in a hurry. A throat dry for a stiffening drink has many cures, as well as downfalls, as we all know.
Meanwhile, the lone main road through Verbal was motionless until a group of riders rushed into town and tied up at the same rail as Hancock had, one of them, maybe the ranch joker, slipping the reign off Jackie’s horse, and slapping him on the rump. The black steed wandered off down the same lone road.
A boy, Bobby Klog, perhaps 10 years of age, inquisitive, alert, knowing joke from trick in an understanding way, ran into the saloon and yelled out, “A black horse wandered off the tie rail and is loose on the road.” He paused, pointed at the guilty party, and added, “He’s the one slipped him loose and slapped him on the rump, and my pa would have shot him if he’d seen that.”
It looked as though he was talking directly to Jackie Hancock, his quick little mind seeking recollections..
Jackie stood in front of the joker, his own legs in a message-spread, ignoring the other five companions from another ranch on the trail move, all of them more interested in their first drink in who-knows-how-long? Their trail could have been longer, their throats a mite drier, odds and interests unknown for the moment. It might have been as simple as their being tired of the joker’s latest prank and time for him to cure his own crime, settle his own affairs. Prairie justice often works at such maneuvers, all on its onesies, as some of them were apt to mutter,.
It could be as simple as counting the odds afoot to one of their own; it might be a first word, a first move, to start a fray, or to ignore a half-duty at its outset; justice and honor are often bound by different codes for different situations. A joker throws an extra Jack intp the deck.
The six men at the bar, including the joker, mayhap a continual hell-raiser, were thirstier for alcohol than they were for justice, corrective issues, reparation of any weight, and none of them knew the least bit about Jackie Hancock; the latest visitor was a crack gunshot, one in a long line of shooters still alive in their legend, at least for the time being, this time around the barrel-head, match-play at work, one talent soon to be at work, to ad to the legend.
“Go get my horse, mister,” were the first words out of Jackie’s mouth, and an, “I will like hell,” coming from the other side, with an explanation; “It was a damned joke, mister whatever, a joke. Lighten up, live a little with some noise and drink, enjoy the bar and the suds or the straight stuff. It’s been a long hard drive.”
“Which you can save me by bringing my horse back and hooking him to the rail where I left him in my good trust.”
The tallest, thinnest man of the joker’s comrades made the first move, being at the end of the line, his left hand going for his hid sidearm, Jackie’s single shot setting off a second bullet in the tall man’s pistol that would work no more to take a life or save a life, not in its latest condition..
“Next one goes in your crotch, mister. I ain’t missed a target in a whole year and a half, and that was at a tossed coin.”
“’Pears you’re awful good at this gun stuff, son.” The tone-set was changing so quickly that Jackie jumped right in with a sudden clarification: “My name’s Jackie Hancock, from due east a ways and I’m not afraid of saying I’m not worried about any of you starting right now and going back to when I walked in here.”
The alarmed boy, Bobby Klog, meanwhile, had not sat still, saying in a loud voice at the saloon door, “I got your horse back for you, mister, and he’s tied at the rail where he was tied before.” His smile was bright as the new nickel Jackie flipped him as he drew an imaginary gun from his side, aimed a shot, and caught the nickel on the fly. The boy had a flair of his own
Jackie Hancock said, in sudden seriousness, silence grasping the saloon, “Now there’s a politician at a tender age who just averted a damned war. That’s what I call good business,” and spinning to the joker, to add, “Don’t you think so, too?”
“Deed I do,” he replied, “Deed I do.”
“Then go check my horse and make sure he’s okay. That’s a fair swap, right?”
“It also is, and my name is Cheeko Chauncy, at least that’s what these boys call me.” For those who don’t know it yet, that was the start of a life-long friendship from that point on between the joker and Jackie Hancock.
Bobby Klog, not to be overlooked in this small drama, said, “I got a sister named Norita Klog who’s only 14 now but Pa says she’s going to be a raving beauty come of age and if and when she gets married, he’d going to make her and her husband part owners in his ranch which is always losing cows because his brand is so easy to make-over. It needs some work on it.
All this grabbed Jackie Hancock with a deep interest, depending on the girl’s presentation, which sounded great to an anxious bachelor cowboy without a ranch or a use for a flair at branding; his mind already in the planning stages.
When Jackie Hancock met 14-year old Norita Klog, who was a minor beauty, he set his cap in place, having all the time in the world, and started thinking of a new branding technique, and life with a grown-up beauty when she came of age.
He was in a new heaven already.
He worked witheringly at all assignments at his new job, saw her grow into a lovely 17-year-old woman who said to him one day, right out of the blue, “Jackie, I am going to marry you because I know what to do for you and how to get it done and we’ll have that share of Pa’s ranch, which will be the best ranch in miles and miles. He’ll be proud of us, we’ll be proud of him, and our spread, the best one anywhere.
Jackie Hancock went to work on a new brand, one unlike any yet seen in the West, one with a flourishing sweep to the brand that would make iron-workers blush in their attempts to copy it,
KlogHancock it came out, with an unbelievable swirl to it, almost as much as flourished in 1775, enough to make an iron-maker dizzy, and rustlers sick to their stomachs.