Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
Available Now Site-wide ad space Top right corner, replacing the ad to the right. $25 per month. Click HERE to find out more.
Western Short Story
Out of East Texas, from a ranch as small as a postage stamp, a ranch that sent forth one of Texas’ great law officers, Marshall Pat Goode, came his brother, just as notorious but on the other side of the badge, Bad-Boy Goode.
If their mother had lived past their childhood years, she would have kept shaking her head. As it was, their father, Duval Goode, steady as a year-round stream, dogged as a stump, must still be thrashing under grass about the differences in his boys, trying to figure out what day in the lives of the three of them had made the separation … if there was such a day. He always believed there was, a day of an accident, a day that could be laid at the feet of another person or power, a day where a single act pulled his sons apart.
It kept tearing him apart.
His wife died from an unknown sickness when the boys were very young, so he had the job of raising them, showing them the right and wrong, the bad and good, the way to drop a rope on a target; the whole range of tools that ranch hands needed. He worked hard, he worked them hard, driving them all the time. Pat blossomed under the routines, accepting the challenges for what they were worth, but Stockard didn’t, or couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Pat the elder son was steady, stern, stubborn as one of the ranch mules, stoic in some outlooks, passively good looking with a nose broken three or four times, though he was never sure of the count. One look at him said he was countable. On the other hand, Stockard had dazzled the ladies from the time he was 13 or so, tired easily of those he met, and leaned often on his brother for token money to feed his thirst for pretty company, as Pat always spent his time working, earning extra money. Their excitements were different, and each of them knew it.
For a long time, after the boys cut their own paths, Duval Goode ran his mind through all the possibilities. It was that way when he was laid up for the rest of his days in bed in the front room of the ranch house so he could look out on the grass, see it waving, see cows getting worked, cowpokes riding big reds and grays and paints so that the horizon was colored, and think about the buzzards and hawks preaching final days of judgment from their high thermals. In his mind all things were being measured, the joys and sorrows, the obvious and the possible, the actual and the yearned for.
When the blade of destiny started its slow sweep across his life, the day the old man was knocked off his horse by a stray bullet from a fight in which he had no interest, his sons were as far apart in Texas as they were in their deeds. Pat Goode was a high-saluted marshal in East Texas and his brother, Stockard Good, younger by a full year, was just earning his nickname of Bad-Boy Goode by holding up his fifth bank in West Texas, high along the Pecos River. The white mask Stockard Goode wore just over his eyes made a caricature of his good looks, for he was a handsome dog to begin with, a few ladies openly saying they’d never tell on him no matter what he did, or where he did it, no matter who asked.
Pat Goode went to visit his father every time he was in the general area of the ranch, meaning within 50 or so miles. On a recent visit, checking out the two older sisters from town who took care of his father, Pat Goode sat talking with his father.
The old gent said, “Son, Miss Charity and Miss Blossom were telling me the latest round of stories that have caught on your name, the one over in Kenton Hills. What really happened there? Like they say?”
Pat Goode said, “Before I tell you about that vulture Harnden, you have to tell me how the ladies are treating you. They doing a good job? You comfortable?”
“They’re good ladies, son, and do best for me what’s needed. No frills, no extras, just keep me going best they can. I don’t ever complain about the good ladies you found for me. We got a roof over their heads and they’re liking the job. A fair swap. Now tell me about Harnden. He bad as people say?”
“Harnden’s one of the worst, Pa. Man’s an animal from the time he put on a gun. He don’t care who’s in his sights, man, woman or child, and with or without a weapon. In fact, he’s awful bothersome to most ladies he comes up against.”
“How’d it start, with you?”
“I had a posse near Kenton, chasing down another skunk of a man, killed an old couple for food after they fed him, and we were on the chase .when a youngster, riding bareback came across our trail and told us his grandparents were being robbed. We raised a lot of dust getting there and the folks are dead, shot down, and the bad guy’s horse is still there, but we can’t find him. We spent an hour looking for him and couldn’t find him, and then I saw the bucket rope was down in the well. I suspected we had missed him hiding down there.”
“What did you do?”
“I just gathered the posse around me and spoke real loud, telling them we had to bury the dead folks and cap off the well and burn down the cabin, nobody to use this place of death. One of the posse laid down some boards and began to nail them down, kind of make believe, and all hell breaks loose down in the well. He’d gone down on the rope and found a little space in the rocks where he could hide, like I suspected, and it was over for him.”
“We had him noosed up ready for the ride back and the grandson grabbed a pistol from one of the deputies and shot him dead on the spot.”
“What did you do then?”
“Told him not to do it anymore. The boy said he wouldn’t. That was it.”
The father chuckled, and then said, “I’d rather have Stockard going into banks than do something like that. I worry most that Stockard makes a stupid move in your territory, maybe under your nose. If I’m gone when that happens, I’d tear the hell out of the ground to get back here.” His face turned red, his hands jittery in his lap.
The marshal son knew what was burning through his father. “Rest easy, Pa,” he said, “Stockard may be stupid but he’s not dumb. He doesn’t want that any more than I do. If he came in the door now I’d lock him up, hold him for all of Pecos if need be, and he knows it.”
In a matter of a few months the old gent rolled over one morning, clutched his chest, and died. Only son Pat attended the burial of his father.
So it came to be, in the latter part of the same year, a severe storm hitting high on the Pecos ranges, the bank at West Tolliver was robbed by a man in a white mask that two customers, both young women, said they could not identify no matter how long they tried.
“He was so indiscriminate,” one of them said, smiling, still remembering the wink the robber had sent her way on his departure from the bank, money stuffed inside his shirt.
“He was so cowboy-ish,” said her companion, a blonde beauty, still smiling, still warm, “but he was wearing such a lovely shirt, not dirty denim, mind you, but kind of floral.” She had paused to bring that word into play. “Kind of floral. Cowboy-ish, but a step better, like he was going to the dance at the barn tonight.” Her eyes were wide open with feigned surprise. “And that pretty shirt was so stuffed with money it would make your eyes bulge.
The teller, though, was not so enthralled and told the local sheriff, Bill Hegarty, that he could identify the robber in a second given the chance. “He had a scar on one cheek, just under his mask that looked like it was burned onto his skin. Harsh and red. Like he’d gone down to Hell and got caught there for a while.”
“You’d be able to identify him if you saw him again?” The sheriff was asking the questions.
The teller had one of his own. “Why don’t you ask me if I know him now?” The look on his face said he was not afraid of what he would say. “His name is Stockard Goode. I have seen him before and I am sure I’ll see him again.”
“Where did you see him this other time?”
“I was the teller at Peller Falls Bank when it was robbed about a year ago. They started calling him Bad-Boy Goode because his brother’s that marshal, Pat Goode, out of East Texas, the hot shot marshal that’s almost still a pup, but looks like he’s going places if he keeps it up. Say he brought a mad killer right out of hiding without firing one shot. Didn’t even pull his gun out of his holster, just talked him up from the bottom of a well where he was hid out after he killed some old folks.”
Hegarty nodded at that statement. “Already heard about that capture. Sounds like he’s smooth as gun oil, that brother. Well, I’ll put out a poster on the other one. We know he’s headed back into the hills, but he’ll make his way out to spend some of his money. Can’t buy much up in there. Last gent up there hiding out tried to buy some pelts from trapper, then planned on selling them as a cover but got too greedy and tried to snake it on the old trapper who had him strung up in a tree when the posse showed up. Was screaming his head off for near half a day when they cut him down.”
Hegarty nodded off at the mountains in the distance. “They always get restless, hiding out, missing all the fun for all the work they put into robbing banks and stagecoaches. I even heard they’re robbing trains now. Just think of that, getting away with a whole payload off a train. Holding up one of those iron horses carrying half the world on it. World sure is changing these days.”
Back at the teller he brought his attention. “You keep your eyes open from now on. That dude might come looking for you, if he hears about him being named and you the namer. What’ll you do about that?”
“Easy for me, Sheriff,” the teller said. “I’ll send a wire to his brother, tell him I’m afraid his brother’s going to kill me. That ought to shake something loose.” He smiled at the sheriff like he had no problems in the whole world.
Not right then.
The two messages, of course, went out across Texas; the word that a teller in the West Tolliver Bank had identified a recent robber as Stockard Bad-Boy Goode; and a wire to Marshal Pat Goode saying that his brother had threatened a bank teller who’d go into hiding if Bad-Boy Goode was not jailed, “and the sooner the better,” whatever way that phrase was interpreted.
Reactions, of course, came from both messages … on each side of the law.
And so it was all brought together about two weeks later, when Bad-Boy Goode, hearing stories about the teller who named him as the robber, and not caring about his own name but not liking a rat squealer doing the deed, came down out of the mountains to square the deal up, and his brother the marshal stepped of a stage in front of the West Tolliver Bank. Neither knew the other was imminent in arrival at West Tolliver, but both felt the squirm in the air, something so restless yet so quiet they each knew a reckoning was at hand.
Marshal Pat Goode, riding into town on a local stagecoach, went straight to the livery, rented a horse and saddle, and then rode up to the sheriff’s office.
The night before, Bad-Boy Goode slipped into town and went directly to the back of the hotel, climbed over a railing and levered himself on the lintel of a doorway and gained the back balcony where the ladies hung their wash. His tap on the window brought a smiling young lady to the door and he slipped into her room the way he had slipped into town, unseen.
Marshal Goode walked into the sheriff’s office and introduced himself. “My name is Pat Goode, Marshal out of East Texas. I received a wire from a teller at the bank about my kid brother being in the area. I came to check it out.”
The sheriff said, “I’m Bill Hegarty, and your brother ain’t only been here but he robbed the bank while he was here. Now he’s gone, I don’t know where but I guess up into the mountains, but we know robbers don’t stay hid too long less they don’t get their money’s worth on all their troubles. I suspect he’ll be back for a couple of reasons, one reason you know from the wire the teller sent you.”
Hegarty, tired from being on the job so long, studied the young lawman with the great reputation that was still developing. A twinge of jealousy touched him, and then disappeared in a hurry, knowing he wouldn’t swap places in a hundred years; he’d had his fling at it: death at his door a few times, two bullets coming home under skin, a beating inflicted by a band of robbers who were surprised in the act by a column of army troops, being swept off his horse in the middle of a river and headed downstream for more than a mile on that journey. He could remember it all. “Another month or so,” he had been saying to his live-in lady. “Another month or so, you’ll see.”
“I’ll believe it some morning when you stay abed after the sun’s up,” she had said.
“I have to tell you this Marshal, the ladies really love him. I suspect he’s broken more hearts than we can count on fingers and toes. Some of them, no doubt from first reports, are in this town. We’ll have to keep an eye peeled on that possibility. Kid’s a handsome dog from what I hear, and that from the ladies themselves, all busted up about him being a bank robber but still won’t change hearts on him.”
Dire thoughts kept running through Hegarty’s mind. “What if it comes down to the final straw, Marshal? What happens then?”
“I’ll do my job, sheriff. What I came to do. And I want to talk to that teller who sent the message to me.”
“I’ll bring him in later on. Let’s have some coffee.”
All that morning, Bad-Boy Goode stayed in the room of Bessie Sellers, enjoying her company, and eating the food she snuck up to the room from the kitchen down below. At one point Bessie saw another girl, who had been watching her too closely for anyone’s good, slide out the door and run down the street right to the sheriff’s office.
She yelled to Bad-Boy, “Estelle went for the sheriff. Get out quick.”
Bad-Boy Goode was out of the room by the same route he came in and disappeared behind the livery.
When the sheriff came, the room was empty and Bessie and Estelle were having a horrible brawl on the upper floor hallway. Name calling went on even after the sheriff left.
Hegarty decided against telling Bessie that Bad-Boy Goode’s brother, the marshal, was in town. Surprises, he had learned long ago, carry a weight of their own.
But the word on the near-capture made the rounds quick enough, and came right at the marshal from the hotel clerk. “Have you heard, Marshal, that Bad-Boy Goode’s in town? The sheriff almost caught him but he slipped away. I heard he went out the back way in a big hurry, the sheriff going up the stairs near having a heart attack.”
He smiled a forceful grin, as if it was accompanied by a by the tip of a sharp knife.
For a second, Pat Goode wanted to say, “When I see Goode, I’ll tell him what you had to say.” But he thought better of it.
Leaving the hotel, looking up and down the main road through town, Marshal Pat Goode made his way to the sheriff’s office.
They spent the whole morning talking in the office, the sheriff finding Pat Goode a most likeable man. Swapping yarns and tales for a good part of the time, Bill Hegarty suddenly said, “Oughtn’t we go chase him down before he gets too far away. I know I ain’t what I used to be, but I’d give it a shot.”
Pat Goode said, “He’s not going too far, Sheriff. I suspect he’s holed up real close with one of his lady friends. Bessie may find she’s not top rung on the ladder.”
“But he’s got so much lead time.”
“I know my brother, Bill. He’s not going far. He doesn’t run away. At least he’s not going far. I’d bet my last dollar he’ll get in a word or two to the teller in the bank, to flannel-mouth Estelle, and to the clerk in the hotel if he finds out how he looks at him. He may be bad, but he’s awful proud, if I have to say so.”
“And if he knows you’re here?”
“'Specially if he knows I’m here, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he does. That would keep him close. Like the old man said, ‘He dasn’t run and he wouldn’t run.’”
“So what do you think will happen? You don’t think he’ll run, so what will he do?”
Marshal Pat Goode nodded, as if all things had been sorted out, and said, “He’ll make some kind of an appearance, a dramatic one, just to put things on an even keel. Like walking right up to the door of your office and leaving his poster on the door, or walking into the saloon and asking for Bessie, or leaving a poster on the door of the bank, after he talks to the teller, of course. One or more of the ladies will have something to do with the whole scene. You can bet on it. There were times back there in East Texas when I thought he was a magician with the girls, and my kid brother at that. He’d come home on a Saturday evening, with two girls, one for him and one for me, and we’d go off to the dance, or for a ride out on the grass. Used to amaze the hell out of me. Made my pa smile back then, but it didn’t last all that long. Things just up and changed. I don’t know when it happened.”
He thought things over for a while, an expression or two running across his face, secrets trying to get free.
“What’ll you do, Pat? It’s gotta be tough, against this kind of a kid brother.”
“It was never easy back there, Bill. Not for a minute, but I love the hell out of him even knowing what he’s done. Like my pa said, and more than once, ‘Something just broke loose in him and went the wrong way.’”
It happened before noon, one of the girls rushing to the sheriff’s office and saying, “Bad-Boy’s coming out at noon, right on the main street, from one of the places he’s hid himself the last day. Says he wants the marshal out there so things can get settled. Told me to tell you he spoke last night to Estelle and the teller at the bank and the hotel clerk, all who tried to get him corralled. Just to get things even, he said, scared hell out of them. I think the teller’s running right out of West Tolliver now.”
Shortly after noon, the sun hanging fire over the town, shadows short and stumpy all over, a west wind whetting its whistle on corners of buildings and eaves, Bad-Boy Goode walked out from the back of the barbershop and stood in the main street of West Tolliver.
He was wearing a single gun on his gun belt. He flexed his hands all the while, the way great gunsmiths do it.
A few men ran to tell the sheriff. A boy ran to tell the marshal at the sheriff’s office. The sun threw down a few shadows upon objects that held their shadows intact. The stagecoach was stopped short of the hotel, and the driver was told to wait until something happened. At the bank, the general store and the barbershop, doors were closed, shades drawn down, signs posted. A lady left her groceries in her ranch wagon and hid behind the wagon.
Wearing a white hat, a flowery shirt mostly blue and yellow like it had come all the way west from the east, and a vest that cut his form so perfect the madam at the hotel had a daydream of her youth, Bad-Boy Goode stood in the middle of the road, one pistol grip visible at his belt. The ladies of the town peered at him from behind windows up and down the street.
At the other end of the street, the already famous marshal from East Texas, Pat Goode, stood suddenly ready to face his kid brother.
There was stillness in all of West Tolliver. The newly arrived stagecoach was stopped back down the road, the driver standing at the lead horse, hand over the horse’s mouth, all the passengers scattered behind cover of any sort, the heavy and hot sun a presence everywhere, its glow alight on glass surfaces.
“I got to take you in, Stockard,” the marshal said, standing straight and stern and steady in place.
“Pat, you know I could outdraw you from the very first day. You don’t want it to come down to that. I don’t either. We can each go our way and leave it to somebody else. That’d be easier on both of us.”
“You know I can’t do that, Stockard. Pa would roll over in his grave. He’s done enough rolling. I’ll bet Ma has too.”
The sun was down on top of him like a weight, like a rock off some cliff or canyon he’d been in on one of his chases. “You think it’s hot, Stockard?
“Hot as Hades as some’d say,” Bad-Boy Goode said, straight up in the middle of the road like some Chicago or St Louis store mannequin dressed up for a duel right at the peak of noon.
“Let’s go,” the marshal son said, as he reached for his pistol, forgetting that the leather thong loop was still in place, preventing the pistol from falling out.
As the outlaw brother reached down to get his pistol, a shot rang out, hitting Bad-Boy Goode in his drawing hand, the best and last shot ever fired by Sheriff Bill Hegarty of West Tolliver, from a place at the side of a building, from which he also announced his last day as sheriff..
“Couldn’t let either one of you gents kill your brother. Someone kick that boy’s gun away from him and let me put the manacles on him, if needed. Looks kind of bloody from here.”
“That suit you, marshal?” he said to the other brother. “I couldn’t let you wear that along with your badge. The days are long enough as it is.”