Western Short Story
Gun Shy
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

“I’m telling you gents that the old man, Jeb Carlton, out there at the edge of town with his wife Mildred and daughter Millicent told me straight out that some no-good rat stole both his hand guns and both his rifles clean out of the house. Clean outta the house, he said, just like that.”

Pit Pitman had come into the Sky Castle Saloon in Foundry, Texas just to get a beer and tell the odd story the old man had told him, word for word, expression by expression, just like the mimic who made a one-time visit to the saloon. Pitman was an unlikeable sort from the first day, taking advantage of any and all he could regardless of their circumstances, either solid or deprived, therefore meaning any and all, with no concern either way. He’d take from a midget or a giant if he could get away with it.

One slim gent at the end of the bar, usually quiet in the suds, said, “How old is that old coot anyhow, like he couldn’t have put them down someplace and clean forgot where? They get like that long in the tooth, you know. Some of us getting old, we’ll get our turn at it, just wait and see.”

A young man in the corner, sitting with a couple of friends, all of them cow punchers off a local spread, said, “How old is Carlton’s daughter?”

All eyes in the saloon turned to the good-looking young cowpoke finishing off a beer, who was known as Koby Briggs, puncher from the K-Train Ranch. He was a handsome dude, in a neat gray shirt, a wide sombrero marked up with odd symbols that meant nothing to anybody in the saloon or to other riders at the K-Train spread.

Pit said “How the hell can you go from my story about the weapons to what the girl looks like?. You got that one-track mind working overtime? You guys are dreamers, spend your day dreaming all day about the ladies. It’s a wonder the cows ever get through to the end of the trail.”

Koby was about to say what was on his mind, when he quickly shut his mouth, shook his shoulders in an absent-minded manner, and sipped at the last drip in the glass. He did not say another word, figuring he had said enough already. Certainly, there are things some men must keep to themselves.

But come morning, it found him approaching the old man sitting on the small porch of a decrepit cabin, his wife washing clothes in a crude bucket-and-trough affair, and his daughter Millicent gracing the whole scene with unbelievable beauty as she stood partially in the doorway, looking as though she was afraid to venture outside that shell of a cabin, the whole world promising her nothing for the venture but trouble on top of trouble, the way some people find it their sole expectation, their lot in life always coming up on the dark side of day, dreaming, dares.

But there, right there in front of her, astride a gallant-looking horse, sat a handsome young man with a fresh air about him, like interest has a way of exclamation in a glance. She was intrigued, found herself taking another step forward, unable to stop herself. She had seen no such man in her 18 years.

Koby Briggs tipped his hat brim both to her and the old man sitting on a rocking chair, hands empty, as if his whole day was gone almost before it had begun.

“Sir,” said Koby, “Mr. Carlton, I heard in town you lost all your weapons or some darn rat stole them. Is that right?”

“What part are you leaning on, son, getting lost or getting stolen?”

Koby looked him in the eye, and then looked at the beautiful daughter still hanging at the doorway and said, “I definitely think somebody stole your guns because of her.” He took off his marked-up sombrero and pointed it at the daughter. She’s sure worth protecting, Mr. Carlton, every bit of the way, and with your guns gone, it sure makes it seem all too difficult. That’s why I came here this morning, to lend a hand, see what I can do, look around the place for any odd signs left by the thief, who obviously has something tricky in his mind.”

“Like what?” yelled the old man. “Like what?” He was up off his chair and waving his empty hands in the air. And then he crumpled back down on the chair, a broken-down old man with little means at hand to protect his wife and daughter.

Koby said, “That’s why I came here, sir, to offer my help, see what I can do to help.”

“How you going to do that?”

“Well. Sir, not a soul in town, those coming and going for a week or more, has seen anybody carrying any extra load of guns, hand guns and rifles, which puff a man up for sure, fills a saddle like a man off to war, a war already happening or about to start his own war. One lone man can start a whole war. We’ve seen it.”

“How will you start?” The old man’s interest was at last piqued.

Koby, finally having the edge in the discussion, said, ‘if he didn’t take them, he hid them or buried them, so we go looking. When do you think they were taken’’?

“That’s easy. The ladies were bathing at the stream and I was in the barn. I came out and the weapons were gone, two rifles and two hand guns. And nobody around. I heard nobody. I saw nobody. It was silence all the way around.’

Koby added, “Then, in your loss and excitement, you might not have heard anything, so it still makes me think it was quick and close. That makes us search nearer the house and barn. You search the barn and I’ll check the grounds, and Koby went on his close search with solid determination.

It did not take Koby very long to discover a fresh hay deposit over a small area beside the back corner of the barn, and with little work uncovered a long, narrow patch of fresh earth which, uncovered, yielded the missing weapons wrapped in cloth, an obvious hurry-up-quick burial of goods, the kind that can usually be carried innocently and unnoticed in the open.

His “Yee! Haw!” brought Carlton to his side, to stare at his recovered weapons and say, “You made short work of his work, Koby.” He wrapped on the side arms, held a rifle in each hand/

“We’re not done yet,’ said Koby. “We have to shake him loose, get him out in the open, knock loose his dreams most likely concerning Millicent.”

Carlton added, ‘I can tell you and my daughter have made your own discoveries, and I’m all for them.in case you got any question.” The wink was in his eye as bright as sunrise.

With all his armaments at hand, Carlton went back on his eternal watch; Nobody was going to come near his daughter except Koby Briggs. And he would stick to it no matter the cost.

And as prime as he was, his mind alive with ideas and possibilities, Koby made a deal with a friendly telegrapher to come into the saloon to tell Koby his uncle sent a message to him saying that he needed him as soon as possible; “As soon as possible,” it said. The telegrapher made a good show of it

‘Thanks, Jed,’ Koby said, and muttered, “I wonder what it is now. I better go first thing in the morning. He walked out of the saloon.

Well after midnight, Kody slipped out of town, made sure nobody was following him, and went in a round-about way to the Carlton spread, daughter, wife and the old man himself welcoming him into the little home after his horse was placed in a stall in the barn.

They passed the night in a series of discussions, naps, Koby and Millicent getting more acquainted, which bolstered both of them, love blooming right on the home grounds in the lap of comfort itself.

It happened at broad noon when Carlton, sitting without any weapons in hand, or any visible, saw a rider approaching. One glance told him it was Pit Pitman finally about to make his move. He wanted to shoot him right then and there., but his weapons were still out of sight.

“Hey, old man, “Pitman said, “I thought I’d come pay a visit to you and your lovely daughter and say hello in a most friendly manner.” He jumped down out of his saddle, not even drawing one of his side arms.

Carlton screamed at him, “Get the hell off my land right now. Scram! Leave us be!” He looked about himself hopelessly, as if there was no way to turn, nothing he could do.

“Rest easy, old man. I just want to talk to your daughter for a while, and alone inside. Just for a short time, and don’t bother us while you’re sitting there twiddling your thumbs.”.

Millicent, at that very moment, appeared in the doorway, her beauty beaming like a torch.

Pitman almost came apart at his seams. There was nothing like her in all the West. Gold was gold, and no two ways about it.

“Get inside, girl. There are some things to take care of right now.” He started toward her and Koby Briggs stepped out beside her.

Pitman almost drew his gun, but something held him back, and behind him he heard the click of a rifle trigger being set as Carlton picked up a rifle from a shallow reserve, as Koby Briggs already had drawn a pistol and had it aimed where it would hurt the most.

The group of riders that afternoon into Sky Castle Saloon in Foundry, Texas stirred the whole community, all of which were directed to the saloon in front of which Pit Pitman announced what he had done, was offered a horse and rode directly out of town for good and forever.

Jeb Carlton said, “I wish to announce the coming marriage of my daughter Millicent this day to Mr. Koby Briggs who cleaned up a whole mess and found true love with my daughter, and the two will be married this day and celebrated in the Sky Castle Saloon, and I own the bar for this day.

Millicent Carlton simply kissed the only man she had known in her life, not counting her father.

Night came with a dramatic softness.