Western Short Story
Tom Sheehan

The barber Jose Belmonte, from his small shop at the edge of town, first noted the rider coming into Silver Rialto, day at its early start, and wondered where the man might have spent the night, the town a full day's ride from anyplace halfway alive with people. Jose saw a man worn down by a long ride or one driven by need, and thought it might be a needed drink before a solid meal. A lot of that had passed the other side of the glass.

He was pleasantly excited and pleased when the stranger pulled up in front of his shop and tied his horse to the rail.

"Change my appearance if you can, Mr. Barber. Make me a different man. I ain't been in a shop like this in a whole year on the chase." The voice was officious though the body was not; no star on the chest, grubby looking, more like a miner than a cowpoke.

Conversation by Tom Sheehan

"You a lawman?" Jose said in a quick response...

"You a lawman?" Jose said in a quick response full of respect, his face flushed with excitement, figuring Silver Rialto was the final target of a wanted man chased here for part of forever; a "whole year" keeping his mind leaping to guesses. hopes for success, a quick arrest, an unsuspected citizen worth a year's push across the plains dotted with many towns he'd never been in himself.

"You and me know that, and only us, until the time I tell you my job's done. Keep it in mind, meanin' to yourself and no exceptions allowed. You start cuttin' 'n' trimmin' and I'll tell you why and what for. Deal?" He nodded without hearing a response, as if no response would count in any favor..

"There's more than a few mommas back down the trail who have had their kids killed right in front of them for little reason outside of hate, fear, and whatever makes a man ascared of his life because some kid or his momma has stood up against him. That kind of a lousy punk of a man I've tracked here, right to Silver Rialto. Almost had him a week ago, in Mount Sermon over in the Big Hills. Beat me out of town on a stolen horse while I was waitin' beside his horse for him to mount up. A slippery dude, for sure, ahead of me almost a whole year and me almost sick and tired of it all, but willin' to give it a few more days, hopin' it's here.".

"What's he look like, this killer?"

"Big in the saddle. Rides high, a six-footer, yaller hair hangin' in back like it's lookin' for favor, wears a pair of guns on his belt, damned good with them and too good for his own good if I do say so. No name now I know of, but John Collmore at least his birth name. Could call himself anything 'cept a decent man. You seen a man like that? Cut his hair? Swept up after him, Mister Barber?"

Jose had big trouble controlling himself and damned near choked on his reply. "Harry Devine he calls himself, I suppose for the time bein'," his Adam's apple jumping in his throat, his hands gone edgy and shaky, appearing like no barber anybody would like to get his hair cut from.

"Still around? When's the last time you saw him? He still wearin' two guns? I allus like to git ready aforehand, as you might know."

Jose worked to get back his breath, which had rushed out of his small frame. "I cut his hair about six times so far. Comes in every week to get that blond hair trimmed. Is real particular about it. Tips me good but don't say nothin' but 'Do it like last time' and means it, like he'd pay me back somethin' awful if I didn't do a good job. Don't know anybody else got that feelin' about his hair."

"That's real interestin' and sounds like my man. This time you get a piece of the reward for your good turn."

"That ain't all," Jose dropped his voice almost to a whisper when he continued, looking around the shop as though someone was looking on, listening in. His breath came back in a rush, but his hands still shaking like no pair of scissors ever found comfort or good use in those fingers.

"Why's that?" The stranger, no name offered yet, tipped his head in marked curiosity as his eyes checked out the interior of the shop, scanned the outsides visible through the window, saw his horse at gainful rest. Little else caught his eye, nothing drew a steady gaze, the small-town silence about them somewhat irritable, unusual.

"He's due here today, Devine is. Told me last time he'd be in this day, Friday, near end of the week, him sparkin' a widow right here in town." He gasped an added cry, "Gawd, she's got two kids hangin' on her skirts, not lettin' go yet. I don't think they're even 10 yet. Neither one. You mean, he hurts kids like that?" His hands shook up to his elbows, for sure.

The pressure in his body, his whole chest caught up in the moment, came at him in a heavy and realistic sensation, shortening his breath, exposing his nerves he believed must be bouncing off the skin of his hands, his neck, especially at the back of his neck. It made him think of a couple of bandits and killers he had seen get hanged by the neck right there outside his place of business, the rope grabbed tight by their own bodies moving in the air like they were nothing more than feathers in the wind, not their arms moving them, not their hands pushing at air, but even the smallest breath of air in control of them, them no longer controlling anything but a hush to the edges of town, a silence, a still crowd in a motionless circle around the hastily constructed gallows of every execution, mouths open, at the very edge of the crowd a lawman walking away from the act of law like he had nothing more to do with it, hands clean of it all. Day and deed done, dollar earned one more time. Nothing's like success, and more so further west one goes these days.

The visitor and inquisitor said, "Gets back at their mommas the worst way he can. Yup, you got a chunk of reward money comin' for all this news. Best tell me the lady's name and where she lives in case I gotta pay a visit there." His eyes were still on the saloon across the road, a few customers already having entered the premises, the barkeep at attention, day at hand but night a long ways off.

"Name's Mildred Greenspent. Lives in a small cabin just at the far side of town, t'other way, t'other end of the road, like you was goin' to California or Oregon or the damned Pacific Ocean itself. He spends some time every other night, I hear, over there, like it's his strike. I heard that from some other customers come in on pay days or loaded with a flush of gamblin' money.".

Sometimes Jose spoke out of the side of his mouth as if some ornery soul was listening to him, maybe him talking too much, his head swinging slowly around in a new search for old trouble kicking up because of his own mouth running up enough trouble for a month or two, or for a whole year. The thought came to him that he might even have to move further west, to another town; he'd done it before, getting to Silver Rialto the same way, on the move, making a break as if he was a criminal in his own way.

"That's interestin', Jose. My name, if it comes up for any reason, is Dever Drumm with two M's if you will. I'm the marshal out of Steakhill, just so's you at least know the whole story, or most of the parts. When's he due for a trimmin'?"

"My Gawd, Marshal, he's bound to come in this mornin'. Could be any time." He went to the window and looked both ways of the single road into and out of Silver Rialto. "He even might come from the saloon, even this early. Came that way a couple of times, otherwise it's from her house, like I said. From Mildred Greenspent's house and her two kids.".He paused and added, "Oh, Gawd," like a bad deed had been kicked loose again.

"Well, clean me up quicker'n you figured and I'll sit like I'm visitin' you awhile, shootin' the breeze about nothin' at all and every thin' else important. Okay?" His voice had lowered to just above a whisper, and Jose didn't realize it had calmed his own self down to a slow walk, so to speak.

The marshal, his eyes on the saloon across the road, said, "He leave his guns on when he sits that chair?"

"Sure does. Draws them across his lap kind of, for comfort and keepin' them free for use. Have to tell you that, Marshal, keeps them free for use, and right in his lap like I said."

He shook his head again, as though he once more thought he'd said too damned much to a man he'd never seen before and might never see again.

Dever Drumm spoke in a soft manner, but words with an edge on them. "Better not call me 'Marshal' again, and get used to not sayin' it. Best call me Rex, somethin' short and easy, Yep, Rex sounds good for now if our friend comes in like he's supposed to."

"Oh, he'll be in for sure, Rex," and he said the name sitting on his lips, in his mouth for ten seconds, like he'd used it a hundred times. "Always comes early, right from her place or the saloon, never know which, as I said a few times." It sounded firm and heavy for the first time, the quick preparation working already, his comfort showing in place, confidence working, allied with the lawman sitting there with him.

Jose jumped when the marshal asked, "This him comin' now, from the saloon, big as hell he is."

"Oh, Gawd, yes, that's him, Marshal."

"Rex it is Jose. Rex. Best well prepare yourself not to blow apart whatever comes down on us. It might pay off for you and for me. This is a real bad dude comin' our way.

When the door opened and Harry Devine as he was known, came into the barbershop, he checked out Drumm with a quick glance and said to Jose Belmonte, "Who you got for company, Jose? He ahead of me? I told you I was comin' this mornin', didn't I? You gotta remember stuff like that."

"Oh, I didn't put him ahead of you, Harry.. I was just shootin' the breeze with Rex here, Rex

Smith from back east a way. Rex, this is Harry Devine, 'nother cowpoke like yourself."

The two men of the west nodded at each other in their curt manner. "Where you from, Smitty, and what brings you to Silver Rialto?"

"The name itself," said the marshal in a matter-of-fact tone, sounding as if he had said it a hundred times in the same way. "Sparkles a little, it does, Better than Boxford or Cliffside or Cowville itself. I just heard it once and said to myself, 'I want to go see that place' and here I am."

The wanted man smiled and said, "You didn't say where you were from as he sat down in the barber chair and swung his pair of guns across his lap so they sat clearly visible, attainable, dangerous as any pair of pistols ever looked.

He looked down once, and when he looked up the marshal's gun was pointed directly at his chest. "I'm Marshal Dever Drumm from Steakhill, on your tail a long while, John Collmore, and was just sittin' here with Jose waitin' for you to show up. You make one move and you're dead."

His gun didn't waver a speck, steady as a steel rail, his voice changed into the voice of office, when he said, "Jose, go behind the man and pull each pistol from his lap, nice and easy, sure and easy just the way you know I mean it. Don't throw them, but put them into that bucket in the corner."

"John Collmore, I arrest you for multiple murders on your way here, and on your way back to make payment. I'm done with my talkin'."

It was done. Collmore, wrists bound in chains, hoisted onto a horse and starting back the way both men had come, went to doom and more silence than he had ever known.