Western Short Story
Brett Kirkness and the Bandits
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

At 12, curly blond hair, physically ahead of time across his shoulders and chest, his arms used to work without deep complaints, Brett Kirkness felt ready for the world. He had just buried his parents, killed by a strange gunman because he wanted their only horse.

When another lone rider said he would take over the cabin because he needed a place to live and he had heard the old folks were dead, the 12-year old, rifle in hand, said, “No, you don’t get it.” He aimed the rifle steadily, no hitch to his move, his eyes on the eyes and hands of the stranger. “This was my folks’ place and now it’s mine.”

“You’re only a kid. I can take what I want.” He was about to go for his sidearm, when Brett made his stand.

The shot went over one shoulder of the rider, Brett adding, “The next one will really hurt.”

The lone cowboy rode off, his mind made up for him by a kid, pride having no part of his departure.

“I’ll be back some day, kid. Bet on it.” His yell was from a good distance.

He rode into the splattered sunlight across the prairie, the echo of the lone gunshot still whistling in one ear, as if it was going to hang around for memory’s sake, remind him of a kid standing his ground. The vision was bound to linger.

The boy, his mind made up, approached a friendly and older neighbor, Drew Jago, who lived a few miles away, and asked for advice.

“I am going to stay at my parents’ old cabin, now my cabin and I just want some good ideas about things I should do to keep the place up and running, and it’s all got to be done by me. I’m not looking for experienced hands, or any work, just want to make sure all plans are covered, all I need to do to keep it up to snuff.” He paused, took a deep breath, and added, “All by myself.”

“Well, Brett, I knew your folks for a long time and I know they raised a great kid. They did a solid job. Shows, the way you look for advice, and all that you’ve done so far. Some folks have heard about that fella you drove off with one shot. Some thing I’d loved to have seen. The things I’d tell you, you already know: keep water handy, more than you need if you can do it. Keep the wood pile built up, again, more than you need. Keep tools keen and sharp and away from rust. Don’t take in strangers unless they’re bad hurt and can’t go past your place. Make sure your horse is shoed and fed, Get whatever help you need by asking good neighbors. You know them all. And come by any time you feel like talking or listening to an old codger like me.” And his added bit was, “But you know you’ll never really be alone out here, for sure.”

It was the warmest parting he’d know for years to come.

The youngster, all ears, all attention on what the old gent had to say, took it all to heart. His energy went to the care of the cabin, his horse, his tools, and his everyday needs. Did it so well, that in four years, celebrating his 16th birthday with a visit to Drew Jago, certainly older in actions and appearance than at any time Brett had noticed.

“Son,” Jago said right out of the blue, “I’ve written my will and neighbors have copies and my place is being left to you, cause you’re like the son I never had and always wanted. Yes, sir, a son of my own.”

In two months, Drew Jago was found dead at his barn, caring for his horses.

Brett Kirkness, at 16, was a real landowner, a rancher, with two spreads, with six horses, two barns, a paddock, and 10 head of cattle.

And the young ladies of the territory began to look his way.

He started to return the gazes, knew the changes working in him, saw responses, saw interest on the fly.

His adopted dog, Amigo, also a gift from Drew Jago, woke him one morning with a soft hiss and a scratching sound on the bed board.

“What’s it, Amigo?”

The dog hissed again.

Brett grabbed his rifle, slipped out the back door beside the wood pile, Amigo right at his heels until a horse neighed from the barn, and a second horse repeated the sound. Amigo bounced across the yard barking loudly all the way until a shot rang out. The dog whimpered in pain, barked again, and rolled over in a frenzy.

The shadow of a man jumped away from the barn leading one of Brett’s horses, a gallant palomino, until a rifle shot took one leg out from under the horse thief. The thief screamed in pain, let loose of the palimony who raced off across the prairie.

An hour later, three neighbors, leading the palimino, rode up to find Brett nursing the wound of the horse thief, hot water at hand, clean linen wrapped around a high leg wound, a blanket saddle rolled up under his neck. The thief was recognized by the neighbors committing a similar crime.

“You’re done this time, Jackson. You could be hung for this or sent to Yuma. You’re damned lucky Brett here as a great shot and has a soft heart, fixing you up like he did. Lucky as all Hell from what I can see, that clean bandage, that blanket rolled under your neck, you still breathing.

That’s the luck of the draw for a thief, I’d say.” He looked at his pals and said, “Can you beat this,” and he clapped Brett on the back and said, “Ain’t he something, boys? Ain’t he? And he’s already got his dog fixed up, too.” He pointed at Amigo quietly at rest, looking over the scene.

Brett stood and said, “Jackson ain’t done anything. He’s working for me and there’s no crime done here.”

The statement nearly choked the neighbors. “Hell, boy, he’s done this before. This time we got him by the throat. He ought to be hung for horse stealing.”

Brett replied, “Like I said, he ain’t done nothing. He’s working for me, and that’s that. No more to be said, as I said once or twice already.” He patted Jackson on the shoulder and said, “Ain’t that right, Breezy?”

Ever since then, Harvey Jackson has been called Breezy, and Brett Kirkness has been a legend in the territory.