Western Short Story
If they wore the other’s clothes, they could walk off with his horse, too, and no one would be the wiser in their hometown of Leadville. The two of them often admitted only the doors of Hell could draw them apart, or, would even call them separately. Even as kids they had played games with some relatives, all living in the Texas Valley of their birth, every last one of them, and The Dead Arrow Saloon in town the only big draw for them outside of work.
So, Jed Coopersmith and Jed Scooperwaite grew into their early 20’s like twins, Texas as much a grandparent as any soul could be. And Saturdays, late in the day, they’d leave jobs at separate ranches and head to town, and Coop, itchy and bothersome this day by 6 PM waiting on Scoop, had enough of waiting when a ranch hand, himself late to enter, said, “Hell, Coop, he left there two-three hours ago. Saw him mount up myself, waved at him.”
So, Coop went looking, back the way he knew Scoop would have come to the saloon. He met two strangers who said they were headed to the nearest saloon to get wet inside, had not had a drink in three or four days, had not seen any riders on the trail the last two days.
Coop said. “You’re heading right toward the saloon, like you gents can smell it. You can make it less than an hour’s ride. Have one on me. Tell the barkeep, Steady Eddie’s his name, that I sent you along. Tell him also you ain’t seen nothin’ of Scoop who I’m lookin’ for. My pal.”
They parted and went their ways, but Coop began following the pair’s tracks until something else might divert him: it was little more than a start, he figured.
The tracks led him, in short order, in a strangely distorted way among some rough country too far off the trail for thirsty riders.
Quick hunches had gained headway with him.
The tracks of the thirsty pair led him through a maize of rocks and cliffside sculptures and narrow files and hidden draws he’d never been through and saw where their horses had been tethered. The spot looked harmless until he climbed the nearest huge rock and had a good view of the regular trail.
That made him jump-start and then he spotted the empty shell casing, on the ground below him, glistening in the sunlight, the immediate revelation as ominous as could be.
His heart sent him in motion to the area of the trail where a sniper, a back-shooter, had aimed, and his nerves smashed into each other in his hurry to start his search anew.
A splash of blood on a ground stone leaped at him, and then another, as if a body had been dragged off the trail and then hidden. The hours had set a clock in motion: how long since Scoop had left the ranch, until the time he had met the two riders looking for drinks.
“Scoop! Scoop! You out here someplace? Give me a yell if you can. Toss a stone. I hope to God you can hear me.”
Nothing moved, sounded, made notice. So, Coop widened his search, and then his heart leaped again as he saw another bloody spot on another ground stone as if a body had been dragged over it … or crawled to hiding.
A moan came his way and he found Jed Scooperwaite under an uprooted tree, sprawled in the deepest shadows and jangled roots.
“How you doin’, Scoop? Can you make it back to town on my horse? With me? What happened? You see anybody?”
“Plain back-shot, but in the leg. Hurts like Hell, but I’ll make it.” His hand poked at his belt and he said, “Looks like whoever shot me also took my money sack, took my drinkin’ money.” In disgust he shook his head as though he might never have another drink.
Binding the bloody leg, Coop hoisted Scoop onto his horse and set out for town, knowing he had to go to Doc Williams’ back door, keeping things quiet, not letting the tiger out of the bag before his due.
The Doc was quick to draw the slug from Scoop’s leg and stitch him tightly. “You had some luck with you today, Scoop, bad luck and a fistful of good luck. A few inches up and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would have torn you apart where it really hurts.”
“Don’t kid me, Doc. I didn’t get hit there, did I?”
The laughter accomplished what it intended between the three of them.
And then Coop said, “I got someplace to go, Doc. You keep Scoop here until I get back.”
He and the Doc had a hard time keeping Scoop in place, the Doc saying, “You could tear that thing apart in a hurry, Scoop, then you’d be no help to anybody including yourself and your best pal, who kind of sounds like he knows where he’s going and what he’s up to.”
“I want in on that so bad I can taste the sweat of it. Besides, I need a drink. I’ve needed once since you put that first needle in me. You’re a gorilla, Doc, with those damned scissors and needle. A gorilla.”
Coop said, “I just got some ideas working on me, and I’ve got to work them out, make sure of what’s in my mind, where I let it go. Both of you know me and how I want things done the right way. We all up-to-date on that?”
The other two agreed at what was obviously on Coop’s mind, saying in near unison, “Good luck on what’s in your mind, what you’re holding onto.”
A few minutes later, laughter and noise pouring free from The Dead Arrow Saloon the way it usually did on Saturday nights, Coop walked into the saloon and went to the bar where the pair of riders he had met on the trail earlier were ordering another drink, spilling coins from a small cloth money sack.
“Hey, gents, you get those drinks I told you to get from Steady Eddie?”
Steady Eddie jumped right in, saying, “Yah, Coop, I took care of them just like you said. You find anything about Scoop out there?” He turned to the other two and said, “He’s been lookin’ for his best pal, shoulda been in here hours ago.”
One of the pair said, “Yuh, we met this gent on the way in here to get our first drink in three days and he told us he was lookin’ for his pal. We saw nothin’ on the trail and told him so. Ain’t that right, mister?” that question was tossed back at Coop.
“Yep, that’s right, Eddie, said they never saw a wink or a whisper of Scoop out there.” He didn’t shake his head in the least negative manner, nor shrug his shoulders in a partial disbelief of the statement.
With that said, he let the empty shell roll a little way across the bar top, not saying another word. But the on-going conversation had been heard by the whole saloon crowd, who had gone close to silent in the midst of what they took as drama of some degree, most of them knowing what Jed Coopersmith was made of.
Coop wasn’t done with his frontal presentation; from his pocket he extracted a small stone and also rolled it across a piece of the bar top, a patch of stale blood hardened in place on the face of the stone. The stone made a harsh rolling sound as it rolled on the bar top. But the otherwise silence seemed to grasp all notice.
The silence in the room was deep and serious, and some of the patrons guessing that they were not observing a game at play from young Coopersmith but were seeing, somehow, the insides of a drama being unfolded right in front of them.
From the far corner of the saloon, a try at a whisper came clear as a bell, as one old customer tried to muffle his words: “By God, that boy’s building something right in front of us.”
At that very moment, in a rustle and bustle of sound at the swinging doors of The Dead Arrow Saloon, Doc Williams, his arms around a struggling Jed Scooperwaite, led his latest patient into the room in the middle of a dramatic confrontation between old friend Jed Coopersmith and two strangers standing at very stiff attention at the bar.
Coop had one more clue to unleash on the pair who stood in front of a soon-to-be hostile crowd of Texas cowboys. He said, nodding at the items on the bar top, “Eddie, you see anything else on the bar top that you recognize?”
“By God, I do, Coop. That money bag belongs to Scoop. I’d know it anyplace, ‘specially here.”
Some folks might call that the last nail in the coffin.