Western Short Story
Death of a Snitch
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Wikky Sycamore came out of the general store in Harpersville, Nevada into the bright sun directly on his face and him face to face with the toughest of the town’s hangers-on, those with little to do but cause trouble, pick on weaklings, Wikky a perfect example of such choosing by Big Salty Skidson, mountain big, loud of mouth, picker of said weaklings, who disregarded each and everyone in Harpersville from the local sheriff to the largest landowner, both by the name of Gil Hudson, a man from everything and everywhere.

Big Salty, after a quick check of folks in sight, said, “Well, if it ain’t the rubber-mouth squeaker of town secrets, Wikky Sycamore himself. Pick up anything useful in there, Wikky, besides another loose screw?”

Wikky, uselessly wearing a single six-gun on his belt, more a part of his pants than a part of him, eyed the twin guns bracing Big Salty, who saw the look and advised him outright and coldly, “I don’t want you to do anything else stupid, Wikky, because it’d mess up my fun with nothing more pitiful to pick on. You got to know, you are top-dog in that field, old Wikky. Top Dog.” He almost bit his tongue on that pronouncement.

Wikky knew the time was perfect to let go something new around Harpersville, as he said, “One thing I just heard ought to be told you before anybody else, because you couldn’t guess in a hundred years who’s coming to town. Not in a hundred years.”

It felt so good inside him that he held on to it to make Big Salty ask, which he did when Wikky didn’t shoot off his mouth right away.

“So, what’s the big news, big mouth, the world coming to an end? The mountain falling down on us? What else you got?” There was, Wikky saw, an air of curiosity around Big Salty he hadn’t ever seen before.

The change was even more evident when Wikky replied, “Jack Rawlins is coming to town.” It felt awful good rolling off his tongue the way it did, more a pay-back shot than news. “Heard it from Gil Hudson just a few minutes ago. Can you imagine him coming here, Jack Rawlins coming to Harpersville? Jack Rawlins, the hero himself, all the way from Texas? Takes my mind away.”

“That ain’t much to worry about, “spilled from Big Salty before he could even move, a reaction of one of his character make-ups at work. “He supposed to be the best thing since free soap? I ain’t rightly heard much about him.”

“Oh, yeah, just you try to push him around when he gets here.” Wikky knew the realization of making amends with someone else’s hand, a real gun shooter, a champion, a gent on the top of the world doesn’t get pushed around, does the pushing himself. It came on him as if the best piece of a slaughtered cow was his, right off a prairie campfire. The taste was in his mouth, the succulence galore, day’s end just before a deep sleep on the open grass, all worries vanished to Hell or wherever foolish worries get sent.

The way servitude and admiration, and all kinds of magic rise up in imagination, all came to Wikky in the Harpersville’s saloon, namely, The Double Horn, when Jack Rawlins walked through the open door, the sun almost following him all the way up to the bar, like playing ‘Follow the Leader,’ clean through the hush in the entire room, the way presidents, Indian chiefs, and soon-to-hang killers are greeted as a one-time entry for the moment, awe holding sway for the knowledgeable, perhaps half the crowd not knowing what was happening in front of them, or right beside them.

Rawlins, straight against the bar much as a totem, looked the part, from his Stetson at an angle of reproof or disdain, his shoulders at a square attention across that firm body, his arms hanging loose at the ready as they had been every step of the way as if a reception might come off otherwise; but there was silence, wonder, ultimate curiosity all in that grand swoop of entry.

Wikky kept catching the eyes of folks in the room as though he was saying, “See what I told you about him, a presence to be noted.” When his eyes met Big Salty’s eyes, Wikky merely smiled, for the first time ever with danger and daring in his own eyes, a scene to behold for some folks there in the saloon.

As the town snitch and big mouth stepped right up to the newcomer, shook his hand like he was a regular customer fellow, and saying loudly, for all to hear, “Damned glad to see you come to visit this poor hole in the ground, but this place is now on its way to a new beginning, right from this here minute.” Wikky was a Wikky none of them had known, apparently.

He shook that strange hand for an extended time, looking about the room for notice, reaction, withdrawal, especially of Big Salty who was frozen in place, but other folks closer to him were slowly managing to put space between themselves and him, never before ever so brazenly maneuvered.

But this time was different.

Rawlins, spinning about from the bar, facing the whole crowd, asked, “Is Big Salty here?”

All eyes shifted before an answer was forthcoming, to a man, a wide-open condemnation.

“Yes, sir,” said Big Salty, his heart now in his mouth, his hands shaking, the terror loose in him like a runaway horse fleeing a pen of wire. “That’s me.” Folks suddenly looked at him without deference, like he was, once again, like he might have been in another life, a plain nobody.

Rawlins was not done with his quiz. “Is The Snitch here? He asked as he leaned back on the bar, his hand out for another drink from the barkeep near frozen in front of his expensive set of mirrors.

The change came, over everybody in the saloon, down to the most vulnerable, Wikky himself, as he heard Rawlins say, “Well, Wicky, you got something to take care of on your own, at which, once hounded and bounded again, with no way out of torture, Wikky drew his unused pistol and shot deadly dangerous Jack Rawlins to death, tired of new terrors and threats, right there at the bar in The Double Horn Saloon, assuring from that minute through the rest of his life he had to be on guard for the next gunhand to come to town, even as Big Salty backed out the door, not taking his eyes off Wikky for a split second, and the last words on Wikky never coming to be Death of a Snitch.