Western Short Story
The old, long-bearded rider, still half asleep in the saddle, his mind gently occupied with the graces of nature yet at hand for him in his 7th decade, came up out of a shallow depression to see a grown man pummeling a lad half his own size at a make-shift campsite. Infuriated, jamming home his spurs, Fuzzy Beacon sped across the grassland, his hand on one pistol as if murder, in just one of his veins, was screaming for an outlet.
Before he’d let the miscreant land another punch, Fuzzy fired a shot close enough for the man to hold his raised fist aloft and look about, to see an old timer bearing down on him with a pistol waving high in one hand. The age difference leaped at the beater as he tried to reach for his own pistol, his loose hand now and suddenly grabbed by the boy, no more than 11 or 12, even as blood scrawled across his face. That quickly-come-alive lad had sunk his teeth onto one of the beater’s fingers and drawn blood, as well as sufficient turn-about pain to post some even-steven stuff into the confusion of the struggle.
That sudden resolve in the struggle added impetus to Fuzzy’s charge.
Fuzzy’s heart, “old as the hills,” he’d admit, leaped for the youngster’s courage and choice of wiles. He almost felt the pain in his own fingers as he fired a second shot into the general area, the rumpus now at a stand=still.
The beater, a big man, ugly as sin from day one, screamed at Fuzzy. “You should mind your own business, old man, and keep the hell out of mine.”
“And let you beat
a little one near to death. Like hell I would, never in God’s world
would I do that. My own daddy never once’t put his hand on me, as
I’m assumin’ he’s your son, and if he ain’t I oughta kill you
He saw that the ugly beater was obviously keeping count of shots, so Fuzzy replied, “There’s three more in there and I got another gun ready to put you down less’en you git away from him and tell me why you beating the livin’ hell out of him.”
This new intruder was nearly into the range of the campsite, with a fire in the middle of nowhere, and not much else to add to its accompaniment.
The ugly beater by then had his bitten finger stuck up in his armpit to catch the blood, and looked indeed to be a sorry mess from any angle.
The boy leaped away from his attacker and rushed to Fuzzy’s side, to stand beside him and his horse, tears flooding his eyes, to stare up at Fuzzy with deepest welcome.
“Why’s he beating on you, boy, and what’s your name?”
“My name’s Lester Porter, and I ain’t his son, and he took me away from my ma and pa weeks ago just to do his dirty work for him. Every time I turned around, he had me doin’ somethin’ different, and yellin’ at me and screamin’ I didn’t do it right.”
“You any relation to those Porters in Scratchville territory?
“Yes, sir, them’s my folks. “The boy’s eyes were alive with messages.
“Well, son, you go over there and climb up on his horse and we’ll head you home and leave this kidnapper here on his own two feet before the real law catches up to him. Now you get on that horse and head straight up this incline I just came down and I’ll set this man on his own path on his own two feet only after he throws his gun belt off into that there brush and don’t touch it again until I’m up and outta here, We got that, you two?” His hands were on his hips demanding action.
The boy was alertly mounted and heading up the incline and the kidnapper, after Fuzzy put another round right between his feet, tossed his gun belt into the brush. “That’s stealin’ a man’s horse out from under him. The law will hang you for it.”
“They’ll hang you for kidnappin’ him,” Fuzzy replied, pointing after the boy. and started on the grade to follow the boy.
By the time the ugly man got to his pistols in the brush, Fuzzy was atop the incline and headed out of sight, the morning sun already aflame and day promising a ton of heat for those on the move, like these two new comrades of this day. Fuzzy bore both a sense of comfort settling on him, and an image of parents seeing their boy again.
He never once thought of the kidnapper shooting another man in the back with one of hi retrieved pistols and taking his horse, only hours later in that same day and setting out after Fuzzy; with murder, again, on his mind.
“He should have let well enough alone,” as they are apt to say when telling stories about the good guys and the bad guys, and kids young as morning. But this new backstabbing shooter was mere hours behind his objective of yet another murder.
Meanwhile, Fuzzy began to fathom some data about the boy: “You miss your Ma and Pa a lot, Lester? Them bein’ so good to you? Is it like that, Lester?”
The youngster replied, “I call myself Luke and not Lester ‘cause it’s easier, and my pa likes it better than my ma, but she got used to it .I miss he hell out if them since that devil of a man took me right off my horse in the woods and sunk us into the dessert, hiding all the time. He killed a couple of men on those days, and scared the hell out of me, making me stand by him on the move, even after he snatched a horse for me, like it was my own. But it ran away one night when he shot a man who said the horse belonged to another man.”
Fuzzy said, “I can ‘agine him shootin’ a whole legion of ‘em and one at a time. he’s the kind don’t care for nothin’ an’ nobody. What’s his name? He ever tell you?”
Luke replied, “Never once said his name, and no company to hear it from, and him just grunting away all the time, even in his sleep and a lead rope on me sometimes and on the horses on other times, like I was never gonna get home again.” But the boy had not yet released a tear, and Fuzzy was buoyed by his good spirits.
After a circuitous trail taken through a couple of kinds of geography, the pair getting to know each other, each building a sense of respect for the other, they came down from a mountain pass and Luke pointed down onto the side if the mountain, to a snug cabin planted in the side of the mountain. ‘That’s my folks’ place right down there”
He gave his mount a quick spur, and he was off at a run to a woman hanging a wash on a rope line, screaming out at her, “Ma! Ma! It’s me, Luke,” like he had been gone forever. “It’s me, Luke, Ma, and I got away from the devil himself. All the way home.”
The woman dropped the wet blanket in her hands onto the ground and rushed at him. They met beside a big bush and hugged each other, The silence on the side of the mountain was considerable, and Fuzzy marked the moment in his heart forever. And then following thanks, too, after a lengthy explanation, at which Fuzzy alerted the woman and her husband, “I have a strange feelin’ the kidnapper will be back again, so be aware of him and all strangers. Your boy is a special one, so keep an eye out for strangers.”
The mother said, “Why don’t you sit a spell with us, sir? We’d love the company, and the protection.” Her husband nodded his acceptance at the idea, to which Fuzzy explained, “I’m always on the move, so I’ll be on my way. Blessings on all of you. Take care of your folks, Luke, like they’ll take care of you from now on.”
He slipped away from the joyous reunion, but something deep inside told him not to go too far.
He didn’t, keeping his eyes on them from a quiet retreat on the mountainside.
Several days of keen observation paid off for Fuzzy as he spotted the beater moving around the site of the parents’ cabin, sitting his mount like he was on a grab-and-run
Maneuver, at which there was but one way out of the valley.
Fuzzy planted himself at one place after laying a rope across the ground, a loosed end near him as it began a turn around a tree; the whole routine ran through his mind several times before he saw the kidnapper rush from hiding and scoop the boy off his feet. When the pair came rushing past him, he pulled the rope taut, spilling horse and riders from the saddle, and a well-placed bullet from the old man pored its way through chest muscles, the man still nameless, but his kidnapping days over an done with.
Luke hugged his hero, Luke’s mother kissed the old man on the cheek, Luke’s father nodded a quiet appreciation, and the local sheriff accepted their comments, as the man on the ground had nothing to say, then and forever.
Abner “Fuzzy” Beacon, a lone trailhand, rode off into a quiet future, no new word of him as yet.