Western Short Story
Raymond Brickley’s son, called “Brick” by most of his pals, saddled up his newest horse he called Black Joe, a mustang bred here in America and favored by cowboys managing herds of cattle. Black Joe, among other things, was Brick’s best pal on the ride anywhere, and at night tethered close to him out on the wide-open range. Black Joe was good at listening to Brick’s continuous talk and endearments not thrown about needlessly, or handed off accidentally.
In any moment’s interludes, Brick patted the back of Joe’s neck and gave extra comfort to the animal, enough to keep him in good spirits, unlike some of his companions, no matter what they had been through together, though the old adage applied, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Now, as apparent, their herd was being cut into by rustlers who were managed by wily, wooly Grit Simmons, noted rustler and thief of horses as well as cattle, the cattle numbered 100 on each take, and horses as available for use or sale.
The elder Brickley was unable to mount a horse in his elder condition, and was kept “at home,” as he constantly belittled what hampered his saddling up and riding out each morning as the sun rose on the far edge of the plains. It was a constant discouragement to him and bothered him the whole day long.
Brick worked as many jobs he could to keep his father as comfortable as possible, mostly spent in a favorite chair by a favored window with a view over the wide, wide plains clawing their way into nights as receptive as any images he harbored from his past. The stars overhead, magic in their making and their passage as if hung there by a miracle of gods of the skies and the prairie itself, under his feet and the hooves of their legs at loafing and speed racing to bring back a runaway steer headed for the wide open, just to get loose from the mob of brothers and sisters bunched together by hoots and screams of the dozen riders at that endless task.
All of it was lost on Brick, who more than once tried to count those very stars twinkling and reflecting their whereabouts in this world beneath them. Of course, that was a useless task, oftentimes putting him to sleep in his saddle, at the mercy of rustlers, hungry animals of the plains, not to mention the herd boss who was often wide awake in his herd checks, waiting to catch some herd cowboy at sleep. So, it was when his whip slashed across the face of Brick caught in his sleepy mode, blood loose from an awful cut on his face, reminder enough for any man sleeping on the job.
Brick, in his pain and memory, his sudden realization of being horsewhipped, the shame of being caught, the threat of being fired from his lone and current paying job, probably to be felt more by his father than by his sleepy self, once the blood stopped flowing across his face, his temper aflame with anger and hate for the slash of the lash, went in search of the slasher in the darkness, not even thinking of what might transpire this very night, his blood afoot in the universe, carried by pain and shame, and sure to follow him throughout this life, in every saloon he entered, every general store, in the face of every girl he’d come face-to-face with.
In that time, he met Garson Trottingham as another customer, just entering the saloon, yelled out the man’s nickname, Trot, to the man at Brick’s side at the bar. Brick immediately mused on the creation of his new acquaintance, before the cry an unknown man beside him at the bar of The Great Drive Saloon in Wyoming Territory. It was a sure sign that Trot was to become a staunch friend and companion from then on, and the result of it arising from Trot himself, a good-natured man from the first impression at drink, saloons in that time the center of social life, the pit stops along any herding trail toward market wherever it was, no matter in what direction. The friendship developed and evolved in the loose manner, making it most permanent from the start, as both men shared dozens of life’s important points of interest, horses, cattle, women, and in that order of preference if anyone could make such a judgement.
Trot had just been fired from his job, a night guard found asleep on the watch. Brick did not post any questions of how and why, and Trot never once mentioned the ugly scars on Brick’s face, which often began a conversation with, “What the hell happened to you, run into a tribe of Apaches?” or something like that, nothing of it claiming more than what was said, nothing asking more, all ideas finding a place for study, for observation and declaration, man on the hoof, on the singular props in life, saddled, upright, on the go.
But Brick got his trail boss to hire Trot within the hour, the friendship on the upswing right away, each man sharing a personal track in their conduct, then immediately in their responsibilities with the herd on the move to Chicago. Work makes men, seemed to carry the day to conclusion, and Brick could not let go of that realization, not for a minute, not for a full day, once mounted staying that way. day crawling to the next day, Time becoming measureless on its own two feet.
They made small talk in the middle of darkness, in the middle of the endless range, each voicing their opinions on matters, each man nodding his assent to such stands; friendship, they came to know, was worth their efforts.
When the rustlers came in pre-dawn, like a thunder loosed upon the herd, they were as ready as a garrison hearing a tune from a bugle as it was meant to be heard, ready to action, to self-distraction, ready for death in a day’s early hours, hoping another night awaited them.
When a shot from Brick’s pistol found the head of Grit Simmons, running the raid by his rustlers, the whole pre-dawn nation knew the thief of thieves was gone to his glory, dispersing his gang into quick flight, never to be formed again, payback being payback at its best; the day, the night following, full of amends, of thanks to each of the companions on the drive to market, on the threats of death.
All his life, Brick had worked at being a worker, sworn to finish a job, waiting to get to the next task, the next assignment in his life; he knew it was just around the corner, just around the next bend in the trail, a future for the taking; he reached for it, felt it emerge from its own beginning.