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Western Short Story
An Eye for an Ear
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Two old line freighters were sitting at the bar in The Horse Collared Saloon in Shiloh West, Nevada. Taubert Wilkins and Josh Willoughby were partners in the W&W Wagon Freight Company since they had come west from Pennsylvania in 1858 and started a freight line between Shiloh West and several mining towns all within 50 or 60 miles, and there had been a good demand for such work from miners.

“He sure looks like Tate Tundra,” Taub Wilkins said, looking at a man sitting at the bar, “way he sips on that drink like it’s gonna last until Thursday next. But I ain’t seen Tate Tundra since I was to Taxico Springs and that’s a goodly three years ago.”

“Taub, you can’t remember what you had for supper at Dainty Sally’s place last night. How’d you remember three years ago?” Somewhat earlier in Shiloh West’s days, Dainty Sally had a large sign painted and put on the front of her building that said “Dainty Sally’s House and Home Abroad.” She was always tickled when any smart aleck had something to say about “Abroad” being part of the place’s name.

Wilkins said, “Well, I guess we ain’t the pair for such stuff, Josh, ‘cause you couldn’t remember what you ate with Dainty Sally if your life depended on it.”

“And yours, too. So, we’re even up in favors, ain’t we?”

“Josh, you’re the best partner I ever had and I still say that’s Tate Tundra sippin’ on that drink f’ever now and see how his gun almost sits in his lap when he’s sittin’ down. That’s a gun fighter’s trick.”

“How’d you now that, Taub? You ever seen one shoot from there, sittin’ like that?”

“Hell, man,” Wilkins said, “I told you about the time Mad Williams shot up the Gray Puma Saloon in Westcott, that time you was sick abed. He shot right from his stool the minute the sheriff walked in the door hearin’ Mad was in there all primed up. Killed the sheriff, he did, an’ three others an’ none of them even drawed down on him. An’ I was on the second floor balcony after a visit an’ Millie Guthro screamed at me an’ we sat down durin’ all that shootin’ an’ was hidin’ an’ she hung on for a goodly time.”

“Now that’s real memorable, Taub. I can believe you didn’t move far away from Millie’s holdin’ on, did you?”

“Hell, no, Josh, as you well know; there’s a time for afoldin’ and a time for aholdin’, as the old boys say who been there an’ done all that. An’ we both agree Millie’s best for aholdin’ though there some good word about afoldin’ too, if you was to be sayin’ much about it, an’ she’d shoot you if you did utter some, as she sends off sociable alerts about being too much mouth on any man.”

A sudden and unexpected shot came from the other end of the saloon and both freighters were on the floor in an instant and were scratching for space when a second shot hit the bottom newel of the railing to the second floor and split it asunder.

“See that, Josh? That came from him at the bar asittin’ like he was awaitin’ for a drink an’ all the time he’s gettin’ his aim set.”

“He aimin’ at us, Taub?”

“Naw. I hear he’s been awaitin’ on Merill Dobbs in every town we been droppin’ freight at, an’ lost sight of him in the mountains and chased him clear up and out of ‘em an’ lost him again, an’ knowed he came to Shiloh West last week, all for shootin’ the ear off his pap in a card game.”

Willoughby said, “That’s reason enough to kill any man but don’t include us in the bargain. Is he makin’ a point about his shootin’ style, shootin’ that bannister to pieces like that?”

Wilkins, taking a deep breath while still lying on the floor, said, “He ain’t hurt no one and the sheriff’ll gets to know it in a hurry an’ he won’t bother Tate none while he’s waitin’, is about how I figure it. So sit still and wait a bit and we can resume drinkin’ if the sheriff gets the correct wind on it and don’t show up quick as he ought on gunfire in town.”

Minutes went by and the two freighters finally rose from the floor and sat at the bar and the bartender poured another beer for each of them and then went and served Tate Tundra his new beer, saying loudly, “You think he’s bound to come in here, Tate, that Dobbs fellow?”

Tate Tundra spoke for the first time. “Yep, I do, long as nobody leaves here to spread the word around town loud enough for him to hear. That means nobody leaves and I hope all your customers understand what I’m saying.” He drank half his beer in one swig, and kept his eye on the door as he did so.

The bartender said, just as loudly as Tundra, “Hell, we all sympathize with you on this, Tate, and none of us are making a move to go out and crybaby about a few shots.” He looked away from Tundra and scanned the room and said, “Ain’t I right on that, gents?”

Wilkins said, as he pushed his empty glass toward the barkeep, “Like I told you, Josh --- ain’t it worth one ear to see all this? “

“Long’s it ain’t mine,” Willoughby replied as he too was back to drinking his beer in the silent Horse Collared Saloon in Shiloh West, Nevada, the year 1868, the war done and gone, mines working and producing in some places, business good for the pair of freighters for the time being, and one Tate Tundra waiting to exact revenge for his father’s ear being misplaced for life.

Merill Dobbs was indeed in Shiloh West, but he was at that moment is a spare little cabin that Dainty Sally owned at the edge of town, apart from her regular establishment of room and boarding right not far from The Horse Collared Saloon at the other end of town. Dobbs had once robbed a stagecoach that Dainty Sally was on and took every piece of valuables from all the passengers except for Dainty Sally’s possessions. He liked the way she looked at him and told her she had the best looking eyes he had ever seen on a woman, and she was hooked, whispering to him as he departed the robbery scene, “Look me up some time when you’re ever in Shiloh West. I’d be pleased to see you.”

That’s all the encouragement Dobbs needed, and three times he had visited Dainty Sally long after darkness set in, and the visits were most torrid for the lady and her rough friend with the soft voice and special words.

Dainty Sally, as odds are placed about in this world in all its temptations, had her own ups and downs with folks, some of whom befriended her, like Tate Tundra, and some still would like to get even with her for past incidents that hung on just under the skin.

One such person was a hired woman who did most of the work around Dainty Sally’s House and Home Abroad, and some of that work came with abusive appointments from the owner. Her name was

Gertrude Clawson, part white, part Indian, and mostly subordinate in all matters that came due in the establishment. Dainty Sally treated her like a full-time slave, and drove her continuously from pre-dawn to full darkness every day. Sally was often heard to call her “Gert the Dirt.”

And “Girt the Dirt” worked, took her pittance pay, and waited for her one opportunity to strike back.

Merrill Dobbs gave her that opportunity.

Gertrude saw Sally leave Dainty Sally’s one evening at this time and followed her to where she saw Sally meet a man at her small cabin at the edge of town. She didn’t know who the man was, but figured that Sally preferred to keep the tryst quiet. The following day she overheard a conversation at the breakfast table between two boarders. The two were freighters who stayed every once in a while at Dainty Sally’s.

“Think that Tundra fella’s still in town, Taub?”

“Oh, he ain’t left ‘til he knows Dobbs ain’t here no more, Josh. Dobb’s most likely hid himself someplace. He’ll have to come unhid sometime, that’s when Tundra will get him.”

Gertrude Clawson put things together in her mind when she recalled the story about the hold-up of the stagecoach when Dainty Sally had received special treatment from a road bandit named Dobbs.

When Dainty Sally slipped out well after dark that same night, Gertrude did not follow her, but went to the sheriff’s office. The door was locked and nobody was about. She did not know where to go until she saw the lights shining in The Horse Collared Saloon.

Gertrude Clawson did not dare to enter the saloon; Dainty Sally would hear about it in the morning, sure as the sun would come calling. She saw two men sitting at one end of the bar and thought they looked like the freighters she had heard talking. When she moved to get a better look a third man at the bar was staring right through the window at her.

She froze in place.

In a few seconds that man was beside her. “What are you doing here?” he said.

“I’m looking for the sheriff.”

His face said he suddenly knew who she was. “Why? What brings you here? Is there a stranger at Dainty Sally’s place?” He held her arm tightly in his hand.

When she said, “Oh, he ain’t there,” with a stress on the word “there,” Tundra knew the time had come to get even with Merrill Dobbs.

She pointed out the place where Dainty Sally had her trysts with Merrill Dobbs, then Tundra sent her back to Dainty Sally’s Place with strict orders not to say anything. Of course, it was to her advantage not to speak about her participation in the affair.

Tundra sat and waited across the road from Dainty Sally’s cabin until she left with the night still black as the inside of a barn. Sally crossed the road, slipped behind a few buildings and was back at her place shortly thereafter.

Tundra sat again, waiting for Dobbs to go back to sleep, apparently there was little else for him to do, and false dawn was still more than an hour away. With great care, silent as a night cat, Tundra crossed the road, slipped up to the door of the cabin, tossed a stone he had picked up into the pile of wood at one side of the cabin, and stood off to one side of the door.

Sounds inside the cabin said Dobbs had heard the stone and had gotten his gun and would come to check on the noise.

When he cautiously stuck his head out the door, looking first to the left where the woodpile was, Tundra clubbed him on the head.

Dobbs was down and out.

When Dobbs came to he found himself tied to a chair outside the cabin, a gag in his mouth, and Tate Tundra standing against the light of the false dawn, his silhouette and immense statue rising above him, and he had a pistol in his hand.

As Tundra backed off from Dobbs, the light behind him getting brighter by the minute, Dobbs saw him raise his pistol.

Tundra’s voice was firm, soft but full of intention. “If I was you, Dobbs, I wouldn’t move my head one damned bit because I’m going to shoot off your ear just like you took off my pa’s ear. I hope it will be as clean as your shot was, but you never know in this early light.’

He raised his pistol, looked down the barrel, moved his feet in a simple shuffle, took another aim, re-set his feet again as if he was in sore discomfort, and fired one round.

All of Shiloh West heard the gunshot in the lap of false down.

“Down there!” one man yelled, “by Dainty Sally’s cabin. I heard it from down there!”

“Call the sheriff!” came another yell, and hoof beats sounded out in Shiloh West.

When the sheriff came to the cabin, the dawn sun finally up and about, he saw Merrill Dobbs tied to a chair out in front of the cabin, his head bloody and his right ear had been torn asunder by one bullet. Both Dobbs and the sheriff would probably swear they could hear the echo yet.

Dainty Sally was there almost as fast as the sheriff, but she was cursing and swearing her head off at any and all. “We know who did it, don’t we, Sheriff? It was that scum gunman, Tate Tundra. Go get him, Sheriff, wherever he is.”

The sheriff merely nodded at Dainty Sally.

Gertrude Clawson, as she always had, was working her way through morning chores, whistling part of the time, singing the rest of the time.

And late that evening, miles away, Taubert Wilkins and Josh Willoughby, partners in the W&W Wagon Freight Company, were spinning their latest story to saloon patrons in Wescott, Nevada, all the listeners huddled around the bar as the story moved to its auricular conclusion of an eye for an ear.