Western Short Story
Bruce Gentry, Saloon Owner
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

He’d been a herder and a roamer on and off for a number of years, when he saw an eagle tearing at a man’s body with claws and giant scissor-like beak. One shot from Bruce Gentry’s pistol drove the eagle away from the dead man. Searching the body first for anything useable, of any value, he found a bag of gold tied to the belt at the waist, and dropped down inside one pant leg. The poke felt good in his hands and set old dreams back on course, an exhilarating warmth coming on him, a sense of sharing in attendance.

He knew, in a Christian debt, he had to bury the body, so he started digging with the dead man’s shovel found near-by, a miner’s tool citing evidence of his past. Once under earth and a few stones, Gentry put a cross of sticks into the pile, and said a prayer for the soul of an unknown man who had put a valuable bundle into his hands, like a gift from the very heavens.

He set his sights on finding a small town to start a new life. That town turned out to be Conrad’s Den in the heart of Colorado, smack between a long stretch of prairie and a mountain rising to the skies ahead of him. A bank owner or teller could tell him how rich he was, and which way his life might go. Some certainties in life curl up in with warmth, offer entertainment, make a difference.

The bank in Conrad’s Den was small, but helped customers with their chores, the tellers busy at counting, dispensing, balancing, bore the business in good fashion when he put himself in line.

The teller said, when Gentry placed the poke in front of him, “What have we got here?”

“That’s why I’m here, son,” replied Gentry with a smile, “you tell me.”

“This will take a while, so best if you come back in a few hours.” It seemed to be an acceptable act, but Gentry added, “That poke doesn’t leave my sight, so I’ll stay here.” He moved into a corner and waited while the young teller spoke to an older man, possibly the top man in the bank, looking the part anyway. The pair moved away from the counter, but stayed in Gentry’s sight while calculating. The older man finally said to Gentry, “Sir, you have over $100,000 dollars’ worth of gold at initial estimate. Do you want to start an account and deposit it, while we break down the exact amount?”

“Sounds good to me, sir. As soon as that’s done, I’m going to look around town for a few things. Tell me, who owns all the buildings on this side of the road, the ones he had looked at with a studied interest.?”

“That’s an easy one,” the banker said, smiling widely, “one of our customers, George Kinsey, in that office across the street with his name on the door, owns half a dozen places here in our little town. And he’s a favored customer, brings new customers into the fold with spoken regularity.”

Gentry walked around town for part of the afternoon, studied a few buildings, soon sat down with George Kinsey before anybody from the bank got to him, asked a few questions, got his answers, signed on the dotted line, and said, “I’ll be right back with the money, sir. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

The new citizen of Conrad’s Den proved to be a whirlwind at what he was doing, knocking down the walls between adjacent buildings, now his property, joining their spaces, getting a roof to cover the new place and a new floor, before he announced, “I am building a new saloon here in Conrad’s Den that I will call The Lucky Horn, beverages our specialty.” He was on the horn before some folks caught their breaths, a new tonic in the town, a kind of hello and hallelujah, a mix of merriment and business.

The word spread on the new citizen around the town: “Did he find a gold mine? Is it local? Which way did he come into town? Where was he coming from? Where does he get his energy? He seems to have plans scribed in his head. He knows just what he’s about, and where he’s going every time a board is joined, a nail is driven, and has already secured sources of supply to keep a bar in business, like all he does is snap his fingers and something new happens.”

Ladies, in their own and peculiar fashion or styles of interest or attachment, whatever you want to call it, started paying attention to him as he moved around town, meeting everybody, introducing himself, forming friendships and alliances, exuding a charm they had seen little of in normal circumstances, handsome as the day is long, doffing his cap at each meeting, releasing a single secret when needed to foster want or comfort to any degree.

Before Conrad’s Den knew it, The Lucky Horn was the place to spend loose coins, folded bills, and capturing attention by the barrelsful all over the place. “Now that boy knows where he’s going, and how to get there,” said one old miner, retired from his searches. Adding, “He’s a hurrier, you bet your last dime on it.” His chuckle seemed to carry secrets, the kind that generates more whispers, more questions, more secrets of Bruce Gentry’s unknown past.

In the meantime, George Kinsey stewed, boiled and simmered at Gentry’s success and his early part in the whole roadshow of the man that all women loved and all men had to learn to tolerate without jealousy affecting their aims or associations. Every time Gentry moved around, one of Kinsey’s men was on his tail, keeping notes about who he visited, how long he stayed, where he went once every few months for a two-day ride to the middle of nowhere out there on the plains.

“Honest, boss, he goes to the same spot out there, does nothing for a half hour or so, and rides back here. Nothing’s there. Not a thing. But the same exact place, just about every time.”

“Can you find that place?”

“Sure can, like I was blindfolded, like I can measure it from three points and find it each time.”

“One of these days, you’re going to lead me out there, understand? When I say go, we’ll go.”

That day came and off they went, the pair of them, to the same spot. It did not take Kinsey long to find a place where the ground was disturbed. Hi man dug in, found the grave, unearthed the remnants, declaring it obviously being an old miner stripped of what might have been on his person the day of his death. Kinsey followed what happened, putting parts and pieces together.

He had Gentry now! Right where he wanted him. It wouldn’t take much to pin murder of an old miner to get his poke, many questions being answered now.

“When we go back to town, we’ll get the sheriff in on this. It’ll be a cinch. Most men hate Gentry while most women love him, want him, for his money, his good looks, his saloon, a raving success.”

But Gentry had his own man on their tail, beat them back to town, told Gentry, who sold his saloon at a ridiculously low price on the spot, and was gone: “Heading west,” someone said, “heading west.”