Western Short Story
When Sheriff Burt Kentworth came to the top of the ridge and looked down into the low depression, he saw a band of men gathered in discussion. He immediately placed his rifle across his saddle so that it was visible on both sides of him, letting folks know he was well-armed, he was curious, he was going to check out the group that looked to be idle except for talk, no cattle in sight, no cook’s wagon in the area, no other formality of an organization .. except, in his mind, “up to no good.”
“Idle men,” the sheriff said to himself, “means business eventually coming my way. Might as well check it out now, a bit of up-front stuff, a dare-me or do-me approach the best way to put them off their grouped cautions.”
He nosed his horse right at them. “C.mon, Blackie, let’s introduce ourselves.” With that said, the horse went straight down the incline toward the group. Kentworth knew he was on the edge of his territory, about 12 miles from the little town of Broken Rock, Texas, and The Big Chip Saloon where he had salvaged a few of his days at the bar with Pete Noyes, once a barman in Boston and run out of town by crooked officials, to spill the truth Pete had broached with every visit, alert as he was to lawmen of all kinds, to now and forever stay on their best side of things lawful or even questionable as they might seem. “No use spilling the milk again,” he might have phrased it.
The two men, meeting only on rare occasions, had formed a mutual understanding of life as it was eked out in this part of the world, regardless of what others might say about it. As the sheriff approached the group, one man edged his way in the rear of the group to get himself at a clean edge with none of his pals in front of him.
Burt Kentworth lifted the rifle and aimed it at the men now at the edge of the group, saying, “That gent on the back edge best lay down his guns right now or as the local sheriff in a poor spot might just blow him out of his saddle. I’m at my work, gents, and that work is law and order and I sure would like to know what has brought you together out here in the damned middle of nowhere.”
He pointed his rifle again at the man in the back edge. “I won’t repeat what I said, but you best do what I said or I will knock you clean to Hell and back from where you finagled yourself back there.”
A man at the front of the group said, “Do what he says, Duke.”
Burt Kentworth said, “Better not listen to him, Duke, but better listen to me and a might quick right now.” He seemed to squeeze his aim true, and the man called Duke dropped his gun belt on the ground. The sun glistened off the tossed steel as it hit the dark earth.
The sheriff said to him, the apparent leader of the group, “What’s your name, what are you doing here, and where were you all yesterday?” It was a mouthful that he knew wasn’t going to be answered in a quick response. “You can do it a piece at a time, if you prefer, like name first.”
“Name is Hurry Smitz. We used to ride together back in the days. Getting together to hire out to some rancher who’s got work needed be done.”
“I appreciate the talk, Hurry, but that don’t tally with Duke getting space to draw on me, the law hereabouts, if you follow me and my lead. I know you can cut loose the word to draw on me as a group, but somehow this gang of yours is going to lose some of its membership, no telling how many, but including you for sure.” The surety in his voice was definite, steady, and gave promise of completion by force, the air full of slugs.
He nudged Blackie to move slightly to the right. “I got the idea another one of you is itching to make the draw and I’d say he’d be second to go down now that Duke is out of the picture. You and that gent better nod a yes to that offer as it’s all I got time for.” The nose of the rifle swung straight at one man’s eyes, as if they would find permanent separation.
Hurry, up front, said, “Hold off shooting, everybody. We’re going to go on our way, for we ain’t done nothing the law can grab us for. The sheriff knows that. He’s just keeping things clean and on the up-and-up for his town, his folks, his territory, and we want to go our way looking for work. It’s all as simple as that, and no gunfire in the mix.”.
The sheriff said in reply, feeling he had their complete attention, not counting what they believed or didn’t believe, “That’s a whole lot of truth, and it doesn’t matter if I believe you or not, but let me know where you end up, and as soon as you can, or I’ll let every sheriff and deputy and marshal in the whole State of Texas know that there’s a new gang in the saddles. They sure can start the dog sniffing the tail whenever. If I stop one robbery or one murder or, gawd forbid, a kid kidnapping, I’ll come looking for whoever has done it, so help me Hannah.”
He clicked the rifle to let all of them know it had not been loaded the whole while of their meeting.
Hurry, sitting as tall as he could in the saddle, like it was an announcement in itself, said, “That’s putting it all out there for us, Sheriff, with a whole lot to think about on our part and I’ll send a wire or a note when we end up in our destination, wherever that will be, but I got a strong feeling it most likely won’t be in the State of Texas.”