Western Short Story
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Every month, on Day One like it was Bible, new wanted posters were yanked off the wall of the sheriff’s office and the adjoining jail. Where they ended up, nobody knew, but they were not torn to shreds and thrown to the wind, nor ended up in a trash barrel.

As far as anybody knew. Including the sheriff himself.

Not a soul was seen at the act, and each time was quick and clean. But when a poster was tacked up for The University Kid, smooth talker, swift gun, handsome as the long day in a good season, it stood its ground for several months, through good weather and bad, storm or no storm, no matter the season of the year. Only when a heavy rain pelted it, and the ensuing wind scattered it in scrappy shreds, did the poster lose its place, like it had hands of its own for clutching. (Some people did not notice, but they were few, and the name itself, The University Kid, as different as a nickname could be, and as starlit as some bandits became because of their most special monikers, as if John Q Public himself created his illustrious ID, it hung on, a favorite and constant topic of conversation, whether at a bar or not at a bar but where two flannel-mouthed citizens opened their yaps as soon as they hi’ed each other,

That same day as the foregoing, the sheriff walked into a cattle drive camp, acting on a tip, and arrested the one and only Broderick Stanwick, known as The University Kid, his MA earned, and work proceeding by mail for a higher degree, or a couple of them, as the word would say, “he was milking a couple of colleges at the same time, but in different degrees.

When the prisoner did not get his breakfast by 8:30 the following morning, he said to the sheriff, Matt Ribley, “I believe it is obligatory in the state of Texas that a prisoner must be fed by 8:30 of a morning lest a fine be confirmed on the jailor.” His smirk was his attribute to his education

“That’s damned crazy nonsense, son. Where the hell did you hear such a thing?”

“I read it in the law books at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where I earned two of my degrees. It’s written and bound, and bound two ways.” There was no secret to his smile, which lit up his whole cell, alarming cellmates at the same time.

Stanwick had this most positive way of sitting on the breadth of a single word that damned near drove some people out of their minds. The sheriff himself filled the very mold, regardless if eyebrow-raising was one of the results.

The sheriff leaped to expand his own stature, one of his typical bugaboos that The University Kid had already discovered and assigned to weakening character of the lawman. This, even as he countered, “I’m ignoring laws and rules that don’t apply to me or my measures, so, put that in your pipe and smoke it, college man.”

“One day, Sheriff,” Stanwick said, “somebody will come and detain you for breaking your own laws, the laws that stand behind the badge you sport on your chest.”

“No sport at all in any of it, son,” replied the sheriff. “There’s no fun lockin’ up a man what ain’t no bother to a crowd of us, or to one single man of the badge.” It was easy to see he was sporting some fun of his own at his prisoner’s expense. meagre as was his retort.

“But,” he added quickly, as if he was in control of the entire situation, “I have some news for you: you are getting assigned a cellmate in the very soon future, which is what “tonight” means to the observant.”

The sheriff’s chuckle, like punctuation at hand, was almost humorous, released as it was in a jail of all places needing a sense of humor, a few laughs at the imprisoned who, didn’t they, deserve what was coming to them, at them, for their criminal activities?

“And it’s my guess that you sure won’t like the addition.” Those words can=me ominous, ass ominous as can be imagined, full of threat to no end, or some abrupt end.

He let those few words hang on the air as he waved his had at expected silence and went off to one of the often-visited nearby restaurants to squeeze his evening meal out of the very walls themselves, as was his wont. He went there and didn’t even wear his guns, the near stand-alone pair of pistols he had not fired in half a dozen years, all of that fact according to local legend.

The University Kid, amazed at the warning, at the sudden change bound for him personally, didn’t say a word in response. Simply, stunned by the warning, silent at his tongue quick as a quick freeze, said nothing. Silence, he noted, swam around him like water in a pool one finds with surprise on a dry trail on a hot day under a murderous sun taking aim at you, or him.

The University Kid, for the first time ever in incarceration, began to sweat thinking of the horrors the sheriff, and the whole damned world, had planned for him. He didn’t deserve some of the humilities or some of the terrors he conceived as coming at him, a gorilla of a man, a master of any and all cells to which he had been assigned, or dumped into as a last resort, like a zoo of the first order, a metropolitan zoo where creatures of undreamt origin found themselves, and gawkers and starers and kids of every age found joy and interest in inseparable separation. Monkey see, monkey do. Gorilla see, gorilla do, if ever found beyond the bars, at its own call.

The horrors grew trough the longest day ever sent in a cell, every single conception falling at his feet. Did he deserve all this torture? Was he that much of a criminal? Where had his ways first gone astray? Who was his first heroic thief, murderer, kidnapper? Was there such a beginning for him?

He heard the town bell’s single ring. It was midnight. He heard the sounds from outside the jail. Sounds but no voices.

And there stood the sheriff in a semi-darkness. unlocking handclasps by the jingling sound, and finally saying, “Well, kid, your cell mate is here, runner of a house of women you-know-whats, curse of mankind, this night’s cellmate for you. Calls herself Mavoureen.”

The lamp was lit, the glow grew into corners. She was blonde, with blonde hair streaming down the front of her left shoulder, down the back of her right shoulder, her quick eyes as blue as the horizon’s dawn sky, her complexion desert-sweet and undisturbed, her lips traced from a handful of roses, the soft skin of her face and throat and forearms all the way to her elbows as sure as it must be to her thighs to you-know-where. She was beauty itself, her eyes flashing at him, a hand almost reaching for recess or the playground itself, her aura overpowering him with its beauty, its promise, its beginning, and its end of the world, the world itself.

“We closed up her shop, and I ain’t got no place to put her, but here with you, so stand aside and I’ll incarcerate her for the night.”

The keys jingled in the night as he blew out the candle.

He left abruptly.

After introductions, conversation, one helping the other through a tough stretch but eventual mutual transmission, she found the keys the sheriff had left in the latch.

At dawn, they were in another world.