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Western Short Story
Billy Basswood, Lookout
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Not much of the hillside was visible from the trail below, as if the trail had been carved through a few centuries of rock-fall and mountain failure, and the posse’s lead scout, Bill Basswood, was as good an eye as an eagle, in reverse, if you’re particular about such things while running after a breakout specialist like Homer Crosby, recently breaking out of his third jail, and him not yet 20 years old. Seems he was a quick learner about jails and jailers, like some do the job front to back and side to side as best there is, no flaws or cracks in their conduct.

But silent forces work as they are directed.

When Billy saw a man shoot a horse a short way off the trail, his anger rose almost to the firing point, screaming at the man, “If I ever see you do that again, I’ll shoot you on the spot. All you had to do was walk the poor animal into town to the stable. walking easy, walking slow. They’d fix him up for you if it took them a week and you had to wait, and too bad about that.”

“He was my horse,” said the stranger, “and I could do what I want with him. He’d get eaten by the eagles or the other hungry fliers, the sky’s full of them.” He pointed overhead to the sky suddenly full of high-flyers, eagles, hawks, the vast survey of crows in a dark cloud., hunger on the wing.

Billy pushed his own argument. “He might have walked into tom on his own and the stable gent, Corsico’s his name, could have worked on him. He’s great on wounded or limping horses, a bad shoe, a bullet scrape, you name it and he can doctor it in most cases.”

“Like I told you, whatever’s your name, that I did him in on my own. Nobody pushed me, but him.” He pointed again at the dead horse, “He’s better off now, in my mind.”

Billy responded, “I’m Billy Basswood, a deputy on a posse run, and I never figured to see a horse shot dead while I’m on a hunt unless he’s sure on the way to dying. What’s your name? Where were you heading? You heading into Deadfall? Don’t tell the sheriff what you did. He’d be on my side of the argument all the way to the chopping block. He’s a good man, and taught me all I know.”

“Well, said the horse killer, “I don’t like him already. My name’s Buster Biggs, and I am on my way, or was one my way, to Dreadfall, if that’s any of your business too?”

Billy asked, “What were you going to do there? Work for who?” He had a sincere distaste for Biggs already, something off kilter in him right from the start, and such feelings were a make-up necessity of an officer of the law at any level. He had counted on such instincts before, and to his good fortune a number of times: bad blood in a man doesn’t have to bleed from a wound or from a scraped scab to be known; Biggs was bad blood from the very beginning, of that, he was sure. He would keep his eye on im when they were in Dreadfall.

“I’d give you a lift,” said Billy, “and can’t do that now, but if you stand on the road down there, the stage is due. That’ll get you Dreadfall. You’ll be all set.”

They parted company, one on the posse run, one on to guesswork.

Homer Crosby did not get too far, and the posse took him back to town without a shot being fired either way.

For the better part of a week, Billy kept his eyes, from a distance or from behind the window or door of the sheriff’s office, without Biggs seeing him on his vigil, and Billy noting each time, every day, that Biggs went into the bank, and some days more than once. Billy believed Biggs could draw a plan of the bank, and its employees down to a T, and add a note of time. Of course, it all leaned toward a robbery of bank funds on the best day and at the best time.

In between, there were certain other signs he picked up from Biggs’s actions and attitude. One was how he mounted a horse and going into a leaning forward position as if he was on the run right away. But Biggs never left town, never talked to an ally or a confederate in the robbery business, played himself into the second week. His ways did not change, not one iota.

Billy And then, near the end of the second week, the stage delivered a large package to the bank, a package covered by a dark blanket, shrouding it completely. was sure it was a big transfer of funds from elsewhere, or a bundle of gold from a not-too-distant mining area, to get locked away before it was taken away at the point of a gun or multiple guns.

Billy’s interest was wide awake now, his vigil a constant one, his watch completes even through some parts of the night when he managed to walk about in partial darkness, Biggs at his nightly closing of the bar at the saloon, a constant duty as was Billy’s duty, separate from each other, but closer than ever, the truth be known.

When the moon disappeared finally one night, darkness settling in quicker than even the night before, Biggs came out of the saloon, slipped into the shadows of an alley, and came up on the far side of the bank. It didn’t take him ten seconds to open the bank door, and slide inside. Billy tried to imagine what way he was going at things: a stick of dynamite to blow the safe, knowing the numbers on the dial from constant vigils, the easier of the two ways to open the vault, grab the money, scoot out in a hurry, mount his horse, already feeling the animal drawing him off in a hurry.

Earlier, as he had done on several nights, after Biggs had gone to his room, he placed a beam against the rear door and removed it before the sun came up; he had no worries about Biggs making his way out the back door. He proceeded to the front of the bank, saw Biggs easily open the vault, grab a package of money, go to the back door, try to open it, shake his head, and come to the front way, Billy’s gun on him as he left the bank, the sheriff standing with him, the manager of the bank, too.

It was all over in minutes, the cell door closed behind Biggs, the bank manager putting the money back where it belonged, the sheriff gone home to his wife, and Billy Basswood going to sleep like he hadn’t slept in a month of Sundays.