Western Short Story
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

His name was Thurrel Chowder, vagrant of sorts, whose name to all came to be Chowda in a rapid hurry and who was hired by the previous sheriff of Cannon City to be chief cleaner-upper and major domo of the municipal jail and sheriff’s office. He was trusted by the other sheriff and the current one because each one thought Chowda was too dumb to do anything wrong, anything other than sweep, dust, dump trash, yell when a prisoner made too much noise, count the prisoners behind bars every night as darkness descended and made sure they were all there in the morning.

He did all things faithfully.

The day that Chip Grady, known cheater at cards, suspected in a few murders out on the range, was locked into a cell for clubbing a guy at cards at the saloon, he said to Chowda, “Listen, Dumbo, when my girlfriend comes to visit, her name is Sylvia Gold and she always comes to see me no matter where I am, you be damned good to her and don’t dare put your hands on her or I’ll get you when I get outta here.” He pointed his index finger at Chowda, flipped his thumb in the air, as if handling a primed weapon, and said, softly twice, “click, click, bang, bang,” the accompanying evil smile on his face.

That’s exactly what Chowda told the sheriff, who said, “Don’t worry about it, Chowda. You know what to do. Don’t do what he tells you, but what I tell you. That clear?” Then he added, “It’s simple as pie, Chowda: Don’t let her hands go through the bars of the cell, don’t let her stand too close, don’t let him try to kiss her or her kiss him. Now that’s plain and simple, and I’m usually not very far away; at the saloon, at the bank, down at the stable, or visiting Molly Chevrus at the edge of town. We might get married someday, but her husband’s only been dead for a year. He was one of those we found gunned to death out at his campsite, but killed by a sniper at long range for no apparent reason. That reason may surface sometime down the road.”

Then the sheriff packed on his guns and went on his tour of things susceptible to the likes of Chip Grady and others loose from the noose they obviously belonged in or would contend with someday. “It was a given,” as they said in those days.

It was no longer than ten minutes after the sheriff left that Goldie Silver showed up at the sheriff’s office and said, primly and properly, that she wanted to visit her boyfriend, Chip Grady, who was locked up in a cell for a crime he did not commit.

“I tell you, darling boy,” she said as she thrust her elegance into the building, wavering, willowy, winsome to an exaggerated degree, I can do all the favors in the world to anybody I choose. That means anybody, which, of course, means you too, darling.” She puckered up her lips and leaned towards Chowda, who backed up immediately and slid behind the desk.

“Nope,” he said, and you don’t get too near him and you don’t get to kiss him even if you want to kiss a guy like that.”

Chowda hesitated a moment, as if trying to remember something he had forgotten, then added, “and he don’t get to kiss you either. No hands past the bars. You don’t touch him and he don’t touch you. Just like the sheriff said, else I call for him to get back here in a hurry.”

“Aw, honey,” she said, “just a little kiss between me and my boyfriend, one just like this,” and she pinned an open-mouth message of loveliness on the lips of Chowda, who, incidentally, had never been kissed that he could remember.

His hands started to move around this beautiful woman foreign to all his being, when Chip Grady, behind the bars, said in a deep and serious voice, “Remember what I said, Kid; you touch her and I’ll get you Bang! Bang! when I get out of here.” His hands gripped the bars of his cell like steel traps, and he had shoved his nose and lips into the space between two bars, saying in hi deepest voice, again, “Bang! Bang! Kid, when I get out if here.”

Goldie Silver had thrust herself against Chowda and he had never in all his life felt or knew such loveliness and softness and newness. She clung to him desperately, humming her words, “Oh, darling boy, just touch me a little for the beauty of this moment, and she kissed him again and pulled his hands upon herself and he felt the gun she had strapped to her thigh, the upper and inner part, delivery and deliverance unknown in his mind, strapped in place.

“The sheriff said NO,” he said. “No tricks, no games. No kissing the prisoner, and he doesn’t get to kiss you.”

“But you kissed her, Chowda,” Chip Grady said, as if he was angry or jealous all at the same time. You got a kiss and I didn’t get a thing from my own girlfriend, Chowda. You got my kiss. That makes it all unfair. You got a kiss that was meant for me.” He hung his head in a moment of sadness, bereft behind bars, beggar in the bastille, a bummer in the brig, and he had to contend with the dumb ass of an idiot.

He had to have another tack, another approach, and he clutched at it; “I think she’s fallen for you, Chowda, and that breaks me up here in my own jail, lost and sad and nowhere to go and no way to get there. I have to leave you two lovebirds alone and it sure breaks my heart to have to leave her to you, but you don’t always get what you want in this life, do you, Chowda, lover above all lovers, a Cowtown Romeo if there ever was one, you stealing my girl from me? But I have to tell you, Chowda, it ain’t the first time with her. She’s done this to me before, left me for someone else in one big hurry.”

Chowda jumped back into the fray. “You shouldn’t talk about her like that, mister. The sheriff said she was your girl for ages and ages and I don’t even know how old she is.” It was proof that he could not grasp the full situation and never would.

But there in Chowda’s hand was the pistol Goldie had secreted on her thigh, that Chowda had pulled from the secrecy of her folded skirt, that had lain there in the mystical secrets pending another murder, and which became the property of the territory for proving Goldie’s own crime of loving too little for too long.