Western Short Story
Christian Tanger was born with the squeakiest of voices, and which his hearty father tried to hide from any listeners by saying, “He doesn’t have much to say, my Chris, not like some other blockheads I know around here.”
The father was big enough to say those words aloud, a walking load of deference, and so unlike his son who was called, behind his back, “Squeaky,” in the softest of voices lest that voice be recognized by Squeaky’s father.
“Sound doesn’t count if the intent is not meant, not even unsaid sound or the promise of it wrapped in another voice unable to be heard.” Squeaky tried continually to think that one through to realization, saying, “Some day I’ll have the deep and husky voice my father has, you wait and see.”
And some waited but none ever heard the wanted deep tones come from that growing boy.
Some men, most of us know, pay their dues in different ways or make judgements in the same manners, the costs of such are mere enough for most men, and payable as if on demand. “Own up, pay up and keep quiet if you blow the chance at being decent,” being said reasonably by a lot of people.
Even the lonely spinster teacher in the solitary one-room schoolhouse, Miss Gracie Graves by name, knew the stories behind Squeaky and his father, though interruption for interpretation never entered her mind. She was, as some folks coming to mind said of her, quiet as a sweet potato left over at dinner.
So, as it fits the mind of some of us, silence is a blessing at the beginning of any speech or departure from controlled knowledge. The warning there says make what you say count for what you mean; the interpretation is not yours but that of the listener. Who always hears goodness makes part of it not yours but that of the listener.
The talk about Squeaky began long before he even put on the sheriff’s badge, some folks saying he was always trying to make himself tougher than he was because of his voice, but in truth he was becoming quite a man in all western chores and duties, including gun slinging off the hip, roping, and of course riding any and all horses able to hold a man on their backs. Other than his voice, he was well-equipped to face the hazards of the job.
One man, the usually quiet kind until they have something real to say, said judgments that others listened to, understood, kept in their minds, for he once said of Squeaky, “That boy can shoot the point off an arrow.” And the others understood what he meant.
So, as was said, when Brisco Addamy moved into the territory from Montana packing two guns and a reputation meaner than crackling swords, they began to measure the odds, not when the encounter would come, but how quickly it would be in their midst without signal. Blow-ups and encounters, on or off the horse, are bared without warning of any kind, but more so when reputations are at stake. That’s when “Look out!” is not shouted, but “Draw!” is said instead.
Brisco, two-guns and all, meaning his two quicker’n hell pistols and his healthy two side-arms carrying pals came into the Tail High Saloon and announced, “I’m the quickest gun ever to come into this one-horse town, and if anybody wants a challenge to a quick draw, step up and fall down.” He laughed like a clown when not a soul stirred in the whole saloon, including the gent at the bar with a sheriff’s badge on his chest bigger and prouder than anything else the saloon could offer.
Folks near the sheriff moved without seeming to move but providing space in the saloon for a whatever-maybe-coming, meaning room around Squeaky leaning against the bar, not a word yet out of his mouth which all hands expected to escape from his sanity. The sheriff’s sanity.
Brisco continued, “If nobody answers to me, Sheriff, I guess it comes down to you, being the law in this one-horse town whose name I don’t even know yet but I’ve heard all about you. I want to thank you for the invite, for you’re what brought me and my boys down here all the way from Montana.”
In that proverbial voice of his, in that really childish voice, now known across a large part of the western states and territories, Sheriff Christian Squeaky Tanger, gun fighter, deadly shot, said, in his mannered and most polite way, “Now, sir, that’s no way to introduce yourself in a new town,” which sat in the air, hung in the air of the whole saloon, for brief moments of near total disbelief, until Brisco Addamy busted out laughing and pointing at the sheriff with deepest ridicule.
“You call yourself a sheriff,” he said, not as a question but as a derogatory acclamation. “Who the hell would have you as a sheriff?” He looked around the room, the laughter running from his mouth like half a lunatic on the loose from some special place of total observation. “Nothing but a pip-squeak chicken-voice from the man, from the sheriff, who shouldn’t be allowed to talk like a dunce let loose of his bird cage, a lost loser who lost most of his voice down in his dinky and tiny, teeny, tinny throat where Hell itself has found a seat for itself. Beware the pips of a Squeaker as a speaker.” The absolute joy at hearing his own words filled Brisco to overflowing.
“You’re talking about my town and my people and those who pinned this badge on me.” Squeaky actually sounded like a second or third-grader taking part in a western play, guns still encased in holsters at the hips of each man in the room, except for the bartender whose hand was as close to his shotgun as he could maneuver it without Brisco seeing the slight movement to change things around, to plan on assisting the sheriff in the case of need.
“Now you really got me goin’, kiddo,” Brisco said between deep breaths and the long-continuing expulsions of laughter. “I don’t believe what I am literally hearing. I really didn’t believe what I had heard about you, but it’s true, it’s funnier than ever. It’s the funniest thing I ever heard from a lawman. From a badge wearer. From the sheriff of a town I was drawn to by stupid stories, You, sir, just can’t be real. This must be a joke.”
He looked at his compatriots, two mean-as-hell gun-carriers as anybody in town had ever seen. “You agree with me, boys. Ain’t this not for real? Ain’t this a real let-down after our ride across two territories? Ain’t it? Ain’t it?”
His hands were thrown wildly in the air as if in useless attempts at measurement, at explanation.
The look on his face continued to be one of disbelief but both the bartender and the sheriff still had their simple study in place of noting Brisco’s eyes, their every move, their every flicker, as though unsaid words were being measured by those two eye balls, such accounting not finding much in their own favor.
They had been on the prowl before where others, unknown, had left such ripe diatribes about the squeaky-voiced sheriff scratched on walls of buildings, but never signed… he was still a grand shot of a shooter, most of the townsfolk knew that even when they were encouraging outside influences being influential.
When Squeaky said, “I wish you would keep your big mouth shut before I have to shut it for you, Brisco,” it sounded foreign, out of place, masked by doubts of any favorable reaction.
Those simple words of Squeaky’s sounded exactly like they would sound as if said by a second grader sitting in a ring of little green stools at the head of the classroom in the small school just down the lone road in town. There was a tinny, chickenish echo hanging onto each word spoken, as though the words were being prompted through the tinniest of tiny horns.
The ridicule was full bore, and a hush fell atop the whole town; the blacksmith stopped pounding on steel, the grocer stopped counting bags of supplies, a shopper stopped her measurement of services done in her behalf, and the sheriff of the town began to look sidewise at another human being for the first time that very memorable day.
An accounting was due.
“What are you going to do about it, Sheriff? Mark time until you’re dead, flat on your back on this one-horse town that’ll forget you in ten seconds of sorrow?”
Folks still say Squeaky’s father turned away, spun about in his place as neutral as any judge could be, or a referee, and said, as loud as he could, “Draw,” that speed thereon was unseen, could not be measured, and that accuracy was as evident as life itself, or sudden death, as the sheriff’s pistol fired a single deadly shot on the mark even as Brisco’s single round went wildly off into the air above the one road in town.
Folks around the western territories bordering this little town still call it “The Home of the swiftest gun in the west.” Each one charges his own fee for the telling.