Western Short Story
At the first tie-rail in Cougar Hill, Texas, gunman Chaz Brandin slid off his mount and looped the reins of his Palimino over the rail. He wore a tan sombrero, a gray-tinted shirt that showed wear on the sleeves and collar, dark pants of a denim-like material that showed times galore in the saddle. The early sun, almost flame bright, threw his shadow ahead of him on the dusty road. He’d already advised the mayor and the sheriff that he was going to walk down the lone road into town and if anybody dared to take him on, be ready at sunrise.
The message, carried by a stagecoach driver, was not a surprise to folks in Cougar Hill: Chaz Brandin had already announced his entry into six other towns in east Texas, and it looked like he was going to make his way further west. All the way.
Some towns accepted him with silence, not a soul to be caught drawing the line on passage, and the few times a needy hero had stood waiting, he stayed in place, right in place, but face down in the dust, drawing first, dying first, never dreaming of the loss, only the constant saloon-appreciation that was sure to come. Some towns are made by their saloon, some saloons are made by its quick heroes, but neither really complement the other for very long.
The stories had come earlier, from all kinds of folks, those who saw them take place elsewhere, or heard them, even second- or third-hand, because they traveled as if on whispered winds or shouted out in warning: Chaz Brandin was as fast as they come, especially by those who pronounced him as such.
The one difference in Cougar Hills was the sheriff, Patch Hogan, three years on the job, unrifled by talk or mouthy threats, who had seen enough heroes to fill his jail twice over, married to the love of his life, Curly Sims, now Curly Hogan, and the oath he’d sworn never try to be foolish, heroic, or challenged by any awed sort. They all had seen others just like Chaz Brandin over the years, their mouths just as wide, their walk all as cocky as any winner at cards, Aces drawn or beaten, Kings crippled, Queens smothered on the spot before they were enthroned.
That very morning of Brandin’s arrival, Curly had said, “The old book looks like it’s going to get another page written today. Any special plans?”
He loved the way Curly could round things up in a hurry, but take time to clothe them in a nice civilized way, not say, “Is this to be another day of killing?” She had a bit of class in her morning demeanor.
“No, girl,” he replied, “nothing like that for my plans. Let him walk about the town all he wants. I doubt any fool is going to make a stand, and certainly not me, but when he breaks the law, I’ll snap the key behind him in a jail cell, and he’ll cool off after a few days or a few weeks until the judge comes to town on his own schedule, if he ever settles on one. That man is damned hard to read, even with his hand on the Book.”
He didn’t rush his morning meal, which would alert Curly to a hidden nervousness, the kind that hung around the corners of her mouth, at the corners of her eyes as blue as the blades on their meal plates, said to be from Paris in France, by a wily old wagoner who peddled to any ladies who offered him sustenance of any kind, including a sip of cool water. “Them dishes,” he might have said, “practickly been drug the whole way by wagons like mine, from France, mind you.”
The word on Chaz Brandin came to the sheriff in bits and pieces, enough for him to fill his mind and seek the possibilities that lay ahead of him and the tow as a whole.
He heard that when Chaz was not challenged, he went to the saloon and met with the owner and barkeep, Monty Clarke, who stood aside a long rifle laid across the bar, a rifle thin as a rope with a coupe of knots in it, and aimed down the center of the saloon at who knows what or whom, but promised damage enough to whatever its slug hit.
“I hear all about you, Monty,” Chaz said, “that you’re a straight shooter and a man of honor and with a good eye and I don’t want any truck with you about m needs. You and me will play it square and I’ll pay my own way less’n you offer it up to me. We’ll do business together like regular folk. You can stand there with your finger on the damned trigger for all I care, long as we got an understandin’ of the deal. It can’t get any better’n that from where I stand.”
All which sat square in Patch Hogan’s mind, and allowed him thinking time so that Curly wouldn’t get upset, or him get shot to pieces on some measly misunderstanding.
For a solid week it worked that way, Monty’s rope-skinny rifle with a couple of knots tied up in it and laid across the bar waiting on a target.
Then, in a card game getting a bit noisy, voices jumping and yelling seemed like every other hand, one regular cowpoke player jumped up and said to Chaz Brandin, “I saw that! You cheated!” He went to draw his pistol and Chaz shot him dead where he stood and then fell across the table, spilling cards and money all over the floor, and any proof of who saw or did what.
Monty Clark stood with the long, thin rifle aimed at Chaz Brandin, his voice directed toward those near the front door of the saloon, “One of you gents go get Patch Hogan in a hurry afore I shoot the shooter.” A volunteer slipped out the door, and headed in a hurry to the sheriff’s office.
Chaz Brandin, hands still raised above his head, said, “Monty, we have a deal between us, right from the start.”
Monty, in quick response, said, “We had a deal, sonny boy.” His words were curt and harsh, and then he directed a nod at a bystander and said, calling him by name, “Jiggsy, you pick up all the cards and count them and tell me how many Aces you find.” He levelled the rope-thin rifle once more at the shooter.
The appointed-picker-upper, down on his hands and knees on the floor, collected all the cards, and not touching a drop of silver coin or a piece of paper money, finished is task, and said, “I got 53 cards and 5 Aces.”
With utmost ease, as if he could care less about his duties as sheriff of Cougar Hill, Patch Hogan slipped the chains onto the wrists of gunman Chaz Brandin, nodding at Monty Clark, the skinny rifle still at attention, and saying words that Curly would ask to be repeated dozens of time, “Thanks, Monty, you run a saloon as good as any man in all of Texas.”