Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
After two years in jail for a false charge before a crooked judge, Twist Cochran returned to Elgansor, Texas to get back his badge now on the chest of a man who couldn’t earn the right to wear it even if he died trying.
Cochran, tall, wiry, alert as any man could be coming from a prison loaded with petty thieves who’d steal from their own mothers, brothers who cheated on brothers, murderers who took their time in the commission of their crimes, enjoying the assumed power of life they exercised. All this kept a man, while on his back, on his toes, or be damned or further corrupted.
All Cochran wanted in life was to wear his badge again: get it back, keep it polished, do the job.it demanded of the man who wore it, the small army of such men who did the honors for Texas.
It was all that simple, in a crazy sort of way, because Elgansor was still in the hands of bandits at the core; the town itself, the sheriff, the jail, the general store, the saloon. the bigger ranches, a whole chunk of Texas all at once.
Tall in the saddle, easy to recognize, some folks of the town saw him and nodded as if they were partners in a special mission: indeed, those folks knew why he was hereon his first mission after getting free of prison, where he earned more about what went in around him, imprisoned or not.
Among others who recognized him were a few who ran for their lives because of their own earlier failures, or crooked participation in the theft of a whole town, and a few rats who ran to the sheriff to stay on the right side of the wrong badge wearer.
Skid Moran, a runty little road bum, said to the current sheriff, “Guess who’s back, Chalky, and you ain’t gonna like it. Not one bit, if I do say so; Twist Cochran, in the flesh, ridin’ like he’s here to get his town back. Tall in the saddle like nothin’ ever happened to him. I swear he rides like a death notice up in that saddle of his like Honor on the lookout. Glad he ain’t lookin’ for me.”
Chalky Silvern, sheriff by theft, replied, “I wouldn’t count on that, Skid. There ain’t no part for you in that play for him. He knows everythin’ that was done. I heard that right from prison, right from those men you can’t trust to begin with. He knows who’s on his side before and now and who ain’t and you’re one of the ain’ts.” There was a near-order of relish, if you want to look at it that way, in his response, almost like he knew the time if true deliverance was upon him and the whole town.
“I’m leavin’ town if you ain’t gonna take care of me.”
“Skid, I got more to worry about than you, so best be on your way.”
When Skid was out the door and on his way to his own bit of forever, the sheriff said to himself, I should have shot hm the night we robbed the bank, I wouldn’t have to worry about hm now.
When he looked up from the sudden shadow falling across his desk, there stood all six plus feet of him, the one-time sheriff of Elgansor, Twist Cochran, the only threat that the current sheriff could never ignore, just as that treat had existed for Cochran’s time locked in the penitentiary.
“Just a few words for you, Chalky. In prison I learned all about you and the judge and the president of the bank himself, and I’m gonna prove all I heard.” He spun on his heels and was out the door in a flash, mounted on his horse and heading down the road through the center of town.
Every person out there in the main road in Elgansor that day saw him riding and most of them had a happy feeling down in their guts. He was like a man of promise come for settlement of the keenest kind, condemnation of those at community fault, every last one of them.
One of the skid-row types, mouth like a torch every time he opened it, rushed into the bank, past teller and male secretary, right into the office of the bank president as if he owned it outright. “He’s back, Jonas. He’s back. Twist Cochran’s back in town and you know what that means. What he means. He’ll get us all before he’s done.”
“Why would he want me, Smoky? said the bank president, Jonas Salter. “I haven’t perpetrated any crime that I know of. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Smoky. You ought to get rid of that foul tobacco you’re always chewing like it’s the Last Supper caught up in your mouth.” He puffed at every novel statement he uttered as if he was a secret writer and was making headway with the lingo at hand.
Smoky could well imagine the pair trotting off to Valhalla or some such place that big mouths usually called on to be big mouths. None of their pure mush mattered a dingle with him. Not a single dingle.
“Don’t play games with me, Jonas,” Smoky snarled, like he was already in irons. “I know everythin’ you folks did, right down to the last dollar and where it’s hid up there in the hills, and all of it waitin’ for someone to break out with the whole bundle, you, or the sheriff or even Miss Peggy herself sitting back like she’s Momma Innocence herself. She’s got a whole bunch of Hell comin’ at her if you was to ask me about it. A whole bunch of Hell right from the git-go.”
In the dark walnut interior of his office, where he often entertained the salacious Miss Peggy for her favors, Bank President Jonas Salter finally realized a major threat was standing right there in his office, at acute range and behind locked doors. The power of life, death, or rescue. leaped at him as he reached into a drawer of his desk, let loose a scream, pulled out a pistol and killed bigmouth Smoky with single shot, his voice and his yells alarming the bank as a whole; and the smell of gun smoke filled his room before the door was broken down by bank employee who saw Smoky utter a final grunt and roll over, and the bank president fall clumsily across his own desk as if he too had suffered irreprovable harm, but able to say, “He tried to rob me with a hidden pistol I took from his very hands.”
He sat back in his chair and said, “Get him out of here and call the sheriff.”
Of course, a couple of friends of Twist Cochran ran to him to say that things had begun to unravel from the top down, just as you said they would, Twist. just like you said they would, from the first words you said on your return from the penitentiary.”
Another townie offered his piece. “I got a report that the sheriff and Miss Peggy are out riding.”
“On their usual route?” said Cochran.
“No,” came the reply, “they’re headed up into the hills, toward the High Climb Pass, and they’re not on a stroll. They’re hot-footing it!”
“Get the posse ready,” yelled Twist Cochran. “Let’s get the culprits just like we planned.”
All those nights of planning in the penitentiary, all those mostly sleepless nights had come around to being real. And he realized some of his dreams had come along for a free ride.
The badge, as was apparent, would be placed back where it belonged, and sooner than later.