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Western Short Story
Bill Carter's Little Bitter Bills
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Mona Carter met her husband at the door of Luke Gurkhas General Store in Ott Hills, Texas, with a single and quite small bag of goods in one hand, a stern look on her face, before she tried to fully embarrass him, saying, “If you don’t get that new job that pays in cash, I won’t be able to feed your two kids, or myself, after one more week.”

She held the small bag of near-nothings in the air as if it was a stable, oft-used punctuation to one of her deliberate pronouncements, her face also saying at the same time that she had not smiled in a long while, some folks thinking he little bag held a miracle or two in it.

Some other nearby folks pretended they had not heard her delivery, trying to save poor Bill Carter any further embarrassment; it didn’t work, and made him shiver once more at her declaration, used to her recent rants and ravings when the whole crew of the Eagle’s Head Ranch had been cut loose at its sale to a rich Easterner not yet on the scene, and not due for another month, or more, and Bill not the only cowpoke out of a paying job; he sometimes felt like holding up the bank, or a stagecoach, to roll up a few bucks for groceries, as well as shutting down Mona’s diatribes, as some jokester in the Eagle Claws Saloon had called them.

Bill, of a certainty, was not the only unpaid, somewhat-idle guy in town, all of them hoping the new owner would hurry up and get things going again. Some of the other cowpokes also thought of robbing a bank or a stagecoach, and if they all pooled their thoughts, there would have been a revolution in Ott Hills, even the sheriff sitting back with nothing to do except worry about who’d take the first step in corrective matters, as that same thought waved through the neat little town almost on its last legs, the Eagle’s Head ranch covering a whole lot of territory in their corner of Texas.

The sheriff, now called Reluctant Moore since he had tried to reject the offer of being sheriff, had the same hopes for a new owner’s quick appearance. It would make the job one more piece of cake for him in his short life of 21 years, mostly in the saddle and not sitting in a chair in his office, the best room he ever had, bar none., including a corner in the saloon he thought of as “his place.” (Probably along with dozens of others.)

When, finally, Thorodough Edwardian Dimonic, sooner than later, to be dubbed Ted, arrived in Ott Hill to take over his ranch site, covering much of the area around and about Ott Hill, he was dressed to the 9’s, 10’s and 11’s in far eastern finery like the King of England, currently on the Empire throne, a relative of his, from Victorian times.

Dimonic took one look at Ott Hill, saw the problems in faces of all its citizens and announced that he was hiring back the entire crew severed from work by the sale of the property, all at an increase in salary, had delivered a new herd of horses for those riding for the ranch, a 1000 head of cattle to start a massive bunch down a couple of years, and a new foreman that had come with him, speaking the King’s English to the last pronoun, and quite civilly at it; his name was Connor Grady, III, once of Cavan in Ireland, a master of horse flesh information, a dubious detailer of duties, but one helluva good fellow who soon locked up a corner of his own at the saloon. He selected one man to be his favorite, meaning his best source of even the most private information of local folks, which turned out to be one Bill Carter, hardly shy, nosy, and a friendly drinker in his own style, “deep” when you got the money, and not at all when you can’t afford but one bought for you at the saloon bar in the midst of conversation where the listener was usually the winner of free drinks, but not on the house, but on Connor Grady, foreman, talker, listener, drinker, friendly as all get-out if he happened to like you.

Bill Carter intrigued him because of the stories he heard about Carter’s wife, one Moaning Mona whom he knew he could never stand her for a minute, having had his own share of such partnership back in the old country, and the sooner forgotten, the sooner the better, for all concerned. Bill Carter’s new favor was because of his wife, which he understood, after hearing a few stories from his new foreman about his own old wife, gone with the spirits from her harsh treatment of a husband who left her side with a smile on his way to the New World with a new job, a smooth life as he saw it, and a new chance at gaiety, fun and a bit of the drink, once in a great while, meaning a great time on its own two feet.

Mona, as can be believed, shied away from Connor Grady at the first instance, thankful for new and deliberate shopping twists, revamping her home, getting her two kids off on a fattening-up run, and finding herself at a new relaxation, called comfort. She stayed away from her husband, too, glad he had a new drinking partner and comrade of the bottle, the sip, the mug, any available nonleaking cup with a handle on it.

Life, with an Ott Hill’s twist, had returned, and in full glory.

It only took a few months for Bill Carter to screw it up, messing around with the smiling, pleasant, most harmonious woman he ever met in the person of Thorodough Edwardian Dimonic’s daughter, 20-year old Hilda, just about out of the carriage as far as the New World presented itself with cowboy talk, cowboy tactics, and cowboy romance while sharing rides on the backs of two horses in the low hills nearby, and almost out of sight of officialdom.

The first report went to Mona Carter, who took care of the whole matter in the quickest hurry, things out west moving in strange ways day in and day out.