Western Short Story
Born to be Sheriff of Crocker County
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Willis Warner, often referred to as Able Willy from about the age of 10 years, had a multiple load of talents, some of which included the working parts of gunnery, like aiming at a target, moving or not, and hitting it. Rarely did he miss at hunting animals to feed on, questionable looking strangers getting too close to his lonely mother’s cabin, whether she had a preference or not.

Able Willy called the shots; nobody he wanted in the house got to the house, stepping out front for his mother with her husband dead a couple of years, and whether she liked the company or not, Willy inheriting his Pa’s twin pistols at first call, practicing with them for weeks until he was a damned good shot, kid or not. Neighbors’ hellos were loud, clear and known to the boy, so that his mother paid them no mind; might as well be in the hands of a devoted son regardless of age; it was better than anyone she knew. Even Greg Harris in the mix, a widow man himself, and not exactly ugly or unlikable in any manner, didn’t break the ice on visits until Willie had been curried by a wish on his mother’s part.

The only storekeeper in the whole area, Able Johnson, would tell the story of the first encounter Able Willy had with the unwanted, when “Streamer Lockwood went acourting one day and found Willie standing up to him toe to toe and his mother behind him, her saying under her breath, ‘I don’t like the look in his eyes.’ That was all Willy needed; he put two rounds so close to Streamer’s ears the gent couldn’t hear a word for a whole day and hasn’t been near the cabin since. Won’t talk about it either, like we all know he was stood up by a kid. But he has a score to settle before he’s done, old Streamer, you can bet on that, If the kid makes it to 18, the dues’ll be paid and he’ll get to that woman no matter how old she gets. A due is a due.”

When the sheriff tacked up a couple of new killer posters, one being Dead-eye Dickman, wanted for murders from Tennessee to Texas, young Able Willy began looking at every new man coming into town or hanging on the edge, like trying not to show his face, Willy spotted him at a small fire in a nearby valley, his weapons hanging on a driven-stick close to the fire and him laying back to get a little rest. In truth, he got little rest because Willy knocked the pistols useless with two shots, even exploding some of the shells loaded in the guns. Dead-eye, to say the least, could hardly stand the embarrassment of being dragged into town on a mule by a kid. The whole town turned out for the reward ceremony as Willie was paid off and took his mother to Able Johnson’s store to get anything she wanted.

That certainly was the opposite of Dead-eye Dickson’s embarrassment at the hands of a kid and his slick mule with a bright red blanket tossed onto his backside, one that could be seen for a mile on the open grass. That whole show was enough for ten men to bear, and enough for one proud Mom who bought herself a new dress from the East.

Willy, admittedly, missed that signal, only to remember it later in life, when he grew up, and got to see girls for what they really were.

If anyone was going to write a small book, the dime kind, about Able Willie, it would have to be the grocer, gone to his back room with pen in hand and all the ideas sprouting of a sudden in his mind.

That included the attempted robbery of the store by another fast-gun and noted killer, Jersey Joe Jackman, who never worked a day of his life after he passed the Mississippi River and came West where he lived off taking what he didn’t have, and wanted badly, and those who had what he wanted in good supply. More than once a week, in a wide circle of half a dozen stores, Jersey Joe found and took just what he wanted and needed, and nothing more, keeping to himself that someday he’d come back here again to re-supply himself with needed goods. Most folks figured out, some time later, that was his never once firing at a storekeeper. But only the sheriffs and deputies and posse riders that came chasing after him.

Jersey Joe told all this to one posse rider he had shot out of the saddle as his horse straggled after the other riders, keeping that wounded posse rider alive and bandaged up until his comrades came to look for him.

“Jersey Joe told me all this while he was tending my wounds, like he was a damned doctor all the time, even holding my hand once in a while as he spun his tales, but he wouldn’t tell me what stores where we know his robberies were not reported to the local sheriff. I think he was planning all the time to make return visits. He probably made life exciting for a few of them, at least colorful and worthy of talk around the winter stove.”

One of those stores, in Unicorn, never reported a single robbery attempt, the storekeeper having a son who was writing his own story of life in the West, and wanted to call it Life on the Run.

So, dangers all over the place, his mother passed on wearing her red dress, having seen and been near many criminals of all types, Able Willy became the sheriff of Crocker County when he was only 20 years old.

He took a store at a time, listened to all the tales, followed every lead, scoured each retreat into hills, and mountains, and lonely valleys, until he snatched each robber and brought them to justice.

He was 12 years on the job, all store robbers charged and imprisoned for whatever time allotted,

When Streamer Lockwood caught him on the trail at Hillory Hill in Crocker County, and shot him on sight.

Sixteen storekeepers were at Able Willy’s burial, every one of them having more than one story to tell, to add to the tale about Able Willy, on his way home.